• DC Cab Drivers To Get ‘Cultural Sensitivity’ Training

    Taxi drivers in the District of Columbia will now be forced to undergo “cultural sensitivity training” in an effort to better accommodate tourists.

    The cultural sensitivity program is connected to sting operations the taxicab commission has been running over the past two years that found drivers refusing to pick up some fares.

    While the program is still in the conceptual stages, D.C. Taxicab Commission Spokesman Neville Waters said the city’s taxi drivers are often the first faces tourists see when they come to the city and he wants drivers to be sensitive to their different needs.

    Waters said taxis are a public accommodation and it is unacceptable for them to refuse rides to anyone, but there is no pattern of refusal and “no individual class” of people cab drivers are refusing to pick up.

    “Refuse to haul is wrong. Period,” he said.

    Similar to a secret-shopper program, the taxicab commission contracted an outside company to randomly position would-be customers throughout the city to attempt to hail cabs.

    Waters said the planted fares come from all different races, ethnicities and genders, and they are all trained to be aware of different types of violations.

    “The idea is to emphasize customer service,” Waters said. “Drivers are ambassadors for the city. We want them to enhance the entire in-vehicle experience.”

    Details of the program haven’t been hammered out yet, but Waters said it would involve hands-on classroom training where taxi drivers would encounter the types of situations they might see out in the field.

    In a testimony before city council Friday, Eric Rogers, interim commissioner of the taxicab commission, told council members the sting operations have been run four days a month over the past two years. During that time he estimated that out of every 15 to 20 rides, one or two refusals take place.

    “The more options we have to catch a refusal the better,” Rogers said. “We are out there in earnest every month.”

    In addition to the sting operation, the commission has received 75 other complaints during the two year timeframe for refusing to pick up customers, according to Rogers.

    While spurred on by the sting operations, the cultural sensitivity program is also part of a broader rebranding program the city’s cab commission is rolling out to try to better compete with ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.

    A co-op of city cab companies plan to launch their own smartphone app this summer, according to Waters, with the intent to be as user-friendly as the other popular apps.

    Waters said the cab commission’s app will allow customers to pay either on their phone or in the vehicle, which he hopes will help to differentiate the city’s cabs from other types of transport.

    Calling it “RED Car,” which stands for Real Experienced Drivers, the taxicab commission hopes to have 95 percent of the city’s cab fleet painted in a uniform fashion by the end of 2016, and the other five percent done as old cars phase out and new cars become licensed.

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