Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada said Tuesday that elected officials should not simply cast aside the concerns of angry taxi drivers and should work to ensure "social and economic justice."
The county board's authority over some of the issues affecting cab drivers is limited, Tejada said. Around lunchtime Tuesday, about 70 drivers marched the streets of Clarendon shouting "No justice, no cabs!" and demanding basic human rights.
The drivers — most, if not all, members of the Arlington United Taxi Operators (AUTO) union — want the county board to investigate their working conditions. They are upset over the amount of money they have to pay cab companies in order to work, the 70 to 80 hours required each week for what amounts to "poverty earnings," the fact they can be fired for no reason and not move from one company to another.
Tejada initially issued this statement: "The Arlington County Board has heard AUTO’s concerns and we take them very seriously. While over the last year the Board and staff have worked with taxicab companies to attempt to address specific AUTO complaints, it is fair to say we have only effected a few incremental improvements. I am extremely sympathetic to the drivers’ issues and believe these are concerns the County Board needs to carefully reexamine."
He later told Patch that while the county board can regulate the number of cabs on Arlington's streets, fares and driver qualifications, it cannot regulate the terms and conditions of employment. That's not within the board's authority, he said.
But the drivers have raised "a number of important issues that we cannot cast aside," he said. The county should reexamine whether it can do anything that allows cab companies to be successful here and provide drivers more flexibility, he said.
"I think that's about where we are on this. If they're saying they have bad working conditions or being mistreated, we can't cast that aside. We have to reexamine things and see if not the county board, then who?" Tejada told Patch.
"Anything that we can regulate, we'd have to look at. We'd have to look at it and determine if there are human rights issues or not. I would certainly not ignore working people's concerns about those issues. We want to be sure we have social and economic justice."
County staff is currently reviewing taxi fares and will present a report to the board later this year. Tejada said he did not anticipate fare increases.
Beyond that, the chairman said he hoped the drivers and others with concerns about the taxi industry here would communicate with county staff and participate in any discussions on the matter in order to give elected officials a better understanding of the issues.