Taxi drivers in the City of Alexandria are protesting recent Yellow Cab Company changes that garnish wages to cover cab upgrades and a city code that ultimately prevents them from finding work outside of the Company.
On April 17th many drivers in Alexandria took their cabs off the street between 11 A.M. and 2 P.M. and met at the Nannie Lee Memorial Recreation Center, demonstrating their discontent toward the company’s treatment of drivers.
“They put new equipment but this shouldn’t be at our expense,” said Daniel Berhane, a Yellow cab driver for nearly seven years and board member of Tenants and Workers United.
Taxi drivers pay a regular stand fee to the cab company and with new equipment that fee has increased to support the new infrastructure.
“We’ve invested in computers, backseat cameras and backseat credit card swipers. As a result our call volume has increased,” said Spencer Kimball, President of Alexandria Yellow Cab. “...The drivers are the ones who benefit from it.”
The main problem isn’t the money, Berhane said, but the inability for cab drivers in the city to switch companies rather than be forced to face increases in fees to the cab company.
In 2010 the city of Alexandria amended its taxi code with cab companies within its jurisdiction requiring that each taxi meet a required number of dispatch calls per day. Any cab company that was not compliant would not be allowed to take on any additional drivers.
Because companies other than Yellow Cab have not been able to meet the quota, Yellow Cab drivers do not have employment options when it comes to moving outside the company.
“The drivers are saying they’re stuck. They can go where they want to go if there is an opening. In Alexandria there isn’t an opening,” said Kimball.
Berhane said that though the city code itself is a problem, Yellow Cab knew that it would have an upperhand and has since taken advantage of its drivers’ situation.
“The only thing we ask for us to have the rights of any company. We need not should be objected as a slave for one company,” said Berhane. “We want to have freedom of movement so we can negotiate with the company...The city cannot have one company that monopolizing.”
“We’re obviously very concerned about our drivers and we have done our best to reach out and try to handle this,” said Kimball.
Kimball said Yellow Cab has already compromised with their drivers, changing the stand fee increase from $15 a week to $7 a week after drivers expressed concern over the initial number.
“We have compromised and we have been open to their discussions,” he said.
As the issue began to heat up, Yellow Cab pulled statistics and found that the average cab fare in the City of Alexandria was twenty dollars.
“We’re asking for $1 to offset the cost,” he said. “If you can save $1 from $20 that’s a very good day.”
Increase in stand fees coupled with increasing gas prices have created a dilemma for some struggling cab drivers.
One driver said that after gas expenses, fees paid to the company, vehicle maintenance, and insurance costs, Alexandria Yellow Cab drivers have to work fourteen to sixteen hours a day to make a living.
[The drivers] are not angry but they are frustrated with the company...We have not seen any fare increase in a few years even when gas prices and cost of living has gone up,” said Atif Zamir, an Alexandria Yellow Cab driver. “We’ve put in a lot more hours and we can’t even see our salary.”
Berhane said going on strike is not out of the question, though it is a last resort. With 200 taxi drivers out of the 290 under Yellow Cab supporting the the protest, a strike would potentially have a large impact on the city.
“Initially [a strike] is what most of the drivers wanted to do,” he said. “We don’t want to go down that road. We don’t want to hurt the citizens”
Yellow Cab is hoping to avoid that as well.
“We are very grateful and appreciate all of the service our drivers provide,” said Kimball. “[A strike] would be unfortunate for everyone.”