Into this story of hardship have come a number of new taxi co-ops in cities like Madison WI, New York, Portland OR, Denver, San Diego, Austin, and Alexandria VA. Often organized with the help of labor unions such as Communications Workers of America, most take a shared-services approach for their independent owner-operators, empowering members to bypass the middleman in their vehicle purchases, insurance, dispatch services, branding, marketing, and more.
The AFL-CIO has been assisting taxi drivers in Montgomery County, MD, for a number of years now, helping them form the Montgomery County Driver's Union to reform taxi regulations and provide some relief to the drivers. With the added market pressure from new app-driven ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, this year that process has also hatched a vision for a new taxi co-op. Thus AFL-CIO Beth Levie reached out to KDC staff consultant Jim Johnson for assistance in establishing feasibility and training the drivers in co-operative governance.
The start-up co-op needed the County Council to grant licenses before it can operate, and had strong initial support from some Councilmembers, but getting the majority on board proved to be very tough going. It was then that, in developing a strategic vision for the co-op, its members and allies identified a large, untapped demand in the County for quality taxi service for people with disabilities, and committed to 100% of its cabs being wheelchair-accessible. While Beth Levie rallied the local advocates of people with disabilities, Jim Johnson developed a preliminary feasibility study, and co-op leaders vigorously recruited their fellow drivers to educate Councilmembers.
On July 22nd, as part of broader taxi reform legislation, the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to allocate 50 licenses to the new co-op. Jim Johnson is now busily assisting the co-op's driver-members in writing bylaws, developing leadership, and raising capital.