(adapted from stories in the Alexandria Times, and The Examiner -Eds.)
"Alexandria's taxi monopoly has been broken," said Syed Hussain, a driver and president of Alexandria Union Taxicab Company, a cooperative cab service owned and operated by its drivers. The worker-cooperative opened for business earlier this year seven miles south of Washington, D.C. The co-op operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
"We're proud owners of our own company," Hussain said.
The idea of a driver-owned and operated company started after the shutdown of Reagan National Airport for several weeks following Sept. 11, 2001. "They were completely out of income," said Jon Liss, executive director of Tenants and Workers United, the group that helped the drivers organize. "We started having a conversation about the problem, and together with the drivers we developed an analysis" on how drivers could start their own firm.
The first step was changing local cab regulations. In the 1980s, following an influx of immigrant cab drivers, Alexandria enacted a law requiring drivers have an affiliation with a cab company. The company would in turn control the paperwork that allowed the cab to operate, while drivers had to pay for the actual car, operating expenses, and city fees.
After National Airport reopened, cab drivers began working to change this law. In 2005, the Alexandria City Council passed a new taxi ordinance that allowed drivers to form a cooperative company. Union Cab was formed under the new law, and began operations in February, nearly two years later.
Each of Union Cab Company's 143 drivers owns one share of the business. "As owners, we have an investment in this company and an incentive to make certain that we all offer excellent customer service," said Abbassali Abousaidi, a member of the company's oversight committee. "We are all coming from other companies where we paid dues every week and got very little in return. That is not the case here," he said.
Alexandria law allows only 800 cabs to operate in the city. This will force Alexandria Union Cab to recruit drivers who now work for other taxicabs. Under the new regulations, up to 15 percent of the drivers can change companies in a given year. This may hamper the new co-op's growth and development.
Alexandria's Union Cab Company is one of several co-op cab companies operating in the U.S. Union Cab of Madison has operated in Madison, WI since 1979, and is one of the largest and most successful worker cooperatives in the U.S. Other companies include Coast Yellow Cab Cooperative in Fountain Valley, CA and Yellow Cab of San Francisco.