The Answers Issue: Why do taxi drivers have so much political power?

Why do taxi drivers have so much political power in this city when a) they aren’t particularly well organized and b) most of them live in Maryland or Virginia? It seems like making things better for the taxi consumers would win more political points for D.C. politicians.

Good luck finding any politicians—or taxi drivers—who thinks cabbies have political pull. “What a joke,” says Nathan Price, head of the Professional Taxicab Drivers Association. “That’s worse than a joke.” So I volunteered that this perception may be because of cabdrivers’ enthusiastic backing of Mayor Vince Gray over former Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2010. “Once Gray got elected, what did he do?” says Price. “He shoved it up the drivers’ you-know-what.”

That’s not exactly true. Gray made drivers happy by firing former taxicab commissioner Leon Swain and lifting the $19 cap on fares. But cabbies are grumpy about Gray, just like they were about Fenty, because rates aren’t as high as cabbies feel they should be. Rather than political power, it seems, taxi drivers simply have the power to get attention: The media can’t resist any potential story involving the words “taxi rate increase.” Of course, you don’t have to wait to hear about it on the news. Every time you take a ride, you’re a captive audience for the driver’s political gripes.

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