On most days, Otis Carter, Jr. takes the Metro home from his job in Alexandria. But when he is running late, he will sometimes spring for a cab.
"As soon as I get in a cab and they start to pull off, then they ask me, where you going?” says Carter. “Where am I taking you today, sir? I say, 'Southeast Washington' and then the problems begin."
Carter says cab drivers here at the King Street Metro station have denied him a ride to Southeast almost a half dozen times in the last two months. He contacted FOX 5 after one driver even called the cops on him.
"The officer came over and said he wasn't going to deal with this all night and told me to take a walk and find another cab company,” says Carter.
FOX 5 decided to put Alexandria’s cab drivers to the test using FOX 5 photographer Steve and FOX 5 intern Julian.
Julian is the first to get into a cab.
JULIAN: "Is it possible that you can take me to Southeast?"
The first driver is quick to put the address into the GPS and doesn’t hesitate to give Julian a ride.
CAB DRIVER: “Brandywine…ok…”
…tell Julian they can’t find that same address.
CAB DRIVER: “I put that in the GPS. I am so sorry.”
From the very beginning, Steve gets denied.
STEVE: "Can you take me to Southeast?"
CAB DRIVER: "Hmm?"
CAB DRIVER: "Where in Southeast?"
CAB DRIVER: "You mean Washington, D.C.?"
CAB DRIVER: "No, I'm not going there."
TISHA THOMPSON: "Did you just refuse a ride to that passenger?"
CAB DRIVER: "Which one?"
TISHA THOMPSON: "The man that just got out of the cab. The black man."
CAB DRIVER: "No, I didn't."
TISHA THOMPSON: "There was a man that got in the cab and then he got out of the cab."
CAB DRIVER: "Because I have to pick up my daughter from school. I'm not able to make it at 6 o'clock because he want me to go to D.C."
Carter says it is an excuse he has heard before.
“I’ve gotten that often,” he says. “There's something wrong with my car. I've heard that. I don't know where that is. Have somebody else take you."
Donald Kahl is the Executive Director of the Equal Rights Center, a local non-profit that tests taxicabs for discrimination.
"Excuses aren't alright,” Kahl says. “Because excuses are just that. They're excuses."
Kahl says refusing to take someone to Southeast is a form of subtle discrimination.
"You no longer hear someone say I won't give you service because you're African-American. But rather, they're more subtle barriers of accessibility or disparate treatment that are thrown up instead. It is a problem,” he says.
And FOX 5 discovered that when the sun goes down…
CAB DRIVER: "I can't go there this time. I'm very sorry."
CAB DRIVER: "It's not, it's not you."
…turn into quick refusals.
CAB DRIVER: "It's rough."
STEVE: "It's rough over there? What about Anacostia, can you take me to Anacostia?"
CAB DRIVER: "Take the next one please."
Steve gets out and the driver takes off. Steve tries the next cab.
CAB DRIVER: "To be honest with you, I don't know Southeast."
STEVE: "Do you know the Anacostia Metro Station?"
CAB DRIVER: "Not really."
STEVE: "Not really?"
CAB DRIVER: "Go take someone who knows better."
Steve tries the third cab in line, who finally gives him a ride.
Chris Spera is the Deputy City Attorney for the City of Alexandria and is in charge of investigating complaints against cab drivers.
"If they don't feel safe, then we understand and we're going to give the driver the benefit of the doubt,” says Spera. “But to just say, ‘Gee, I don't like that location,’ that's not enough."
Spera says city code states, "No driver of a taxicab shall refuse or neglect to convey any orderly person."
Spera says he suspended a taxi driver last year for refusing to pick up a woman in a wheelchair.
"It’s not an easy way to make a living, so you want to be fair to them,” Spera says. “But at the same time, you can't discriminate. You have to serve the public or else you shouldn't be in this line of work."
Spera says the city has only received four “Refusal to Carry” complaints in the last two years. But Kahl says complaints “tend to be dramatically underreported.”
Kahl says cities like Alexandria should conduct sting operations and tests like FOX 5’s to help combat discrimination because "having someone willing to step forward and say, ‘I have been the victim of discrimination’ is a very, in some instances, a very difficult thing to do. There are a lot of pressures. They might not trust the government, they may be embarrassed, they may think they've done something wrong or they may just not want to make waves."
All feelings Carter says he grappled with before he called FOX 5.
"We have to do something to actually make a change. Because it only takes one person. I am sure I am just one of many that have gone through this type of thing."
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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