Judge temporarily delays new taxi rules in Prince George's
Cab companies say adding permits will hurt business, service
A Prince George's County Circuit Court judge ordered the county Wednesday to temporarily halt new taxi regulations the County Council passed last month after cab company owners challenged the measure in court.
The 10-day restraining order by Judge Julia Weatherly gives the county until Oct. 7 to prepare for another hearing on the regulations, which are supported by independent cab drivers but opposed by three companies who filed a lawsuit against the bill Monday.
The new regulations were set to begin Friday, but the most contested portion of the changes is a plan to double the number of taxi permits, which currently sits at 775. A lottery to give away 392 of the new taxi certificates is planned in November.
The temporary order will delay applications for the lottery until after Oct. 7, said Carol Terry, spokeswoman for the county's Department of Environmental Resources. The county will monitor the case to determine how to proceed after the next hearing, Terry said.
According to lawyers present in the courtroom, Weatherly cited the companies' argument that the new regulations especially the proposal to double the number of licensed cabs created too many unknown factors in county transportation. The judge was expected to issue a written order late Wednesday.
"[The county] has acknowledged from the get-go that they do not have the data to make some of these decisions," said John Davey, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Silver Cab of P.G. Inc. in Landover, Paramont Management of Bowie and Blue Bird Cab Co. of Gaithersburg.
The new taxi regulations mark the first update to county cab codes in 10 years. After two years of debate, council members agreed to double the number of licensed cabs on county roads to accommodate demands from independent drivers looking to get their own certificates.
Right now, most of the county's 775 cab permits are owned by major companies, who rent them out to drivers at $330 per week. Drivers say the companies hold a monopoly on the cabs and charge drivers too much to make a living. A coalition of drivers spent two years lobbying the county for new licenses so they can go into business themselves.
The judgment was cheered by lawyers for the cab companies, who have said adding more cab licenses will take away profits and endanger reliable taxi service for elderly and low-income residents. Davey said seniors will be underserved because new cab drivers might not honor county vouchers given to seniors and low-income residents.
"If they are not going to participate, overall cab service in the county will be diminished," he said.
Getachew Guracha, one of more than 30 cab drivers who attended the hearing during the arguments Wednesday, said the new cab licenses will boost service.
"There are more than 1,200 drivers in the county looking for a chance to drive [with their own certificate]," he said. "This is going to increase competition from north to south. There are many places now where cabs don't even go. ... We will never decline a voucher job."
Because company owners and drivers with certificates cannot participate in the new lottery, Davey also said the law shows favoritism toward independent drivers, which would be a violation of the Maryland constitution's equal protection clause.
"This case is about a group of favored individuals who have been set up with a regulatory scheme," Davey told the judge. "[The county] has failed to consider whatsoever how the taxi cabs fit into the overall transportation [situation] and the safety and welfare of the county and its citizens."
County attorney Rajesh Kumar argued the county has a right to set up the regulations reasonably, and they were done to boost the taxi service in the county.
"I tried to get a cab to come here today. I couldn't. They weren't there," he said.
Arguments in the case are expected to be held Oct. 7.