DC cabs discriminate against 50% of people with disabilities

It’s awfully scummy, and far worse than it might even sound, which is pretty bad. In a recent test, DC taxi drivers didn’t just refuse to pick up blind people with service dogs, and people in wheelchairs, they even dropped blind people off at the wrong spot and told them it was the right spot, figuring they wouldn’t know the difference.

The sting was conducted by the local CBS affiliate in Washington, DC, WUSA9. They used as volunteers people with disabilities who complained of being mistreated by DC cabbies in the past.

The results were pretty shocking. 48% of people with disabilities were mistreated by DC cabbies in some manner.

As the news station notes, that’s twice as many as were mistreated in a previous sting operation concerning prejudice against African-American passengers, in which 25% were passed by in favor of white customers.

I wasn’t aware of the disability problem, but have heard for years about the problem black people in the city have getting cabs. I remember once, several years back, walking by an elderly African-American man here in DC. It was raining, and he was just standing on the street corner. He was well-dressed with a nice hat like my grandfather used to wear. And he asked me for help. You see, he couldn’t get a cab to stop for him. So he thought perhaps I could. So we set off on our quest to bait & switch a cab driver into thinking he was picking up a young white kid instead of a black grandpa. And I immediately got a cab for the man.

I’ve asked DC cab drivers before about the problem. Invariably they were black cab drivers, either American-born, or more likely African immigrants (most cab drivers I’ve had in DC over the past nearly 30 years have been black). And none admitted any qualms about overlooking other black passengers.

They told me they were afraid of young black kids – teenage and 20-something boys – because they feared they’d be robbed by them.

But they also told me that they didn’t like picking up other black people, even the elderly, because they often asked to go to bad neighborhoods where, again, the cabbies feared they’d be robbed by someone else unrelated to the passenger.

And such is the problem with prejudice.  At least sometimes (some might say often) it’s rooted in a reality that itself must be addressed, or at least considered, in order to correct the discrimination.  We can certainly stiffen fines on cab drivers who drive by minority passengers, but if the cab drivers fear for their lives, I can’t imagine a larger potential fine is going to convince them to put their lives at risk (whether or not the fear is real, it’s real to them, so it will continue to motivate them).

So in public policy terms, the question is what can be done to address the discrimination.  That’s our goal,  as civil rights advocates as well, to fix the problem, not just punish the perpetrator.

DC cabs refused to pick up this blind kid and his dog.

DC cabs refused to pick up this blind kid and his dog.

Now to the problem of people with disabilities.  Those with service dogs are probably suffering in part from DC cabbies’ general dislike for picking up people with dogs.  I’ve experienced it routinely ever since I got a dog.  I got her 3 years ago, she’s only ten pounds, and cabs stopped picking me up entirely for the first time in nearly 30 years whenever I’d show up with her on the street.  When I have a dog, I cannot get a cab to stop, period.  I don’t even try anymore.

As for wheelchairs, they may think it’s too much trouble.  The wheelchair will mar their car, they’ll have to get out to help the person into the cab, then put the chair in the trunk etc.  I know it’s bogus, but I’m guessing that’s the concern.

And why a cabbie would lie to a blind person is beyond me.

There’s also a third problem that may be lurking here, prejudice against the disability itself.  While America has made significant advances in regards to the legal and societal treatment of people with disabilities, many parts of the words fare worse.  And know that people with disabilities face a higher risk of violence, worldwide.  Clearly, for whatever reason, that discrimination and disdain continues among DC cab drivers.

I’m not sure what the solution is, other than the obvious, more fines – and maybe hit the cab companies themselves with stiff fines so that they get their drivers in line.  Perhaps more sting operations are needed.

But I do think it’s important to figure out what exactly is causing the problem – and it may be multiple causes in multiple communities – so that that particular issue can be hopefully resolved.  For example, if cabbies think wheelchairs are too much trouble, perhaps someone should show them that they’re not, that it’s easy to help someone into your cab, and it’s easy to fold up their chair.

As for the rest, I honestly don’t know.

Here’s WUSA9’s broadcast on the operation:


CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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11 Responses to “DC cabs discriminate against 50% of people with disabilities”

  1. Naja pallida says:

    It is pretty much universal in the many places I’ve been around the world, if there’s any business interaction you’re going to have a bad experience, get ripped off, or outright scammed, it’s going to be by a cab driver. The industry is corrupt from top to bottom pretty much anywhere you go, and I’ve never heard of anyone, anywhere, talk seriously about trying to clean it up.

  2. Jered says:

    Fair enough; here in Boston they are about 50% over cab prices. I consider them to worth the premium, but I understand that many can’t pay that.

    The real problem is regulatory capture of the licensing agencies. Medallions in NYC or Boston are worth around $1m each, so there are strong protectionist forces to avoid issuing more and strong lobbyists (or graft) to prevent service standards.

    We need stronger regulatory agencies, and I don’t know how we can get there given how corrupt city governments are. Even though here the rates were raised 20% a few years back to account for drivers being required to take credit cards, about half the time I get in a cab the reader is mysteriously broken until I tell the driver I don’t have cash. Then it suddenly is working again! I’ve called the licensing commission to complain — they didn’t care.

    If we allow more services like Uber, including their taxi dispatching efforts, then prices will come down. When I call Green Cab they don’t care what my ride experience was, so I don’t use them. If I tell Uber that a driver accepted a fare and didn’t show, they don’t let him take fares anymore. If we had real competition, these problems would be solved.

  3. Uber is horrifically expensive, though. I considered using them for a trip in town until I saw the price. The minimum is like $15. That will get you across the entire city in a normal cab. But I agree, the cbs here generally suck.

  4. Jered says:

    What can be done is to use alternate services like Uber, where users can rate drivers and drivers and rate users, and ones who misbehave are banned.

    Unfortunately, every single oligopoly medallion owner and their captive regulator is trying to shut this down, using bogus arguments like how the current taxi licensing system ensures safe, reliable, and good service. Hah.

  5. nicho says:

    OTOH my experience has been that cabbies in Boston mistreat 100 percent of passengers. So at least they don’t discriminate.

  6. nicho says:

    It may be a way to afford food after they cut Social Security.

  7. Papa Bear says:

    What about a grandparent in a wheelchair? I’d like to work at Disneyland too…

  8. nicho says:

    Having the same email firewall problem. It went away for a while, but now it’s back.

  9. nicho says:

    But people with disabilities can always get a gig at Disney world, where the one percenters hire them as “guides,” so rich kids can use them to cut the lines. After all, we wouldn’t want Brad and Britney to have to wait their turn, when they can use a kid in a wheelchair to get to the head of the line.

    http://gawker.com/rich-families-cutting-lines-at-disney-world-by-hiring-d-505640665

  10. Naja pallida says:

    Try hailing a cab while wearing a hijab, you’ll often get the same kind of poor response. Cabbies can’t be concerned that they’re going to be robbed by Muslim women; I’m pretty sure they make up a very low percentage of the perpetrators of such crimes. They’re simply in a position of being able to pick and choose who they take in their cab. If we allowed other businesses to pick and choose their clientele, I’d be willing to bet we’d see similar levels of prejudice. Discrimination is alive and well in the country, and when companies refuse to reinforce anti-discrimination policies among their employees, and instead give them a free hand to do whatever they want, what do we expect? There is a reason why we had to pass anti-discrimination laws, and it isn’t because people are fundamentally good and kind to one another.

  11. Danalan says:

    Interesting, and I wonder what can be done? Also, check out DC on the map from this article: http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/05/15/how-bigoted-is-your-region-new-interactive-map-tracks-hate-speech-on-twitter-image/

    I tried the Contact/Tip link to submit the link separately, but Cloudflare insists it’s protecting you from me, on IE, Firefox, and Chrome. It says I must enable Javascript. Well, it’s working for everything else….

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