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Diplomat Claims Racism at Cab Firm
Jim McElhatton
The Washington Times

Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States wants the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority to investigate complaints from Washington Flyer cabdrivers about what he called "racial and Muslim profiling."

Some Afghan-American drivers are upset about "having been discriminated against" in dealings with the Washington Dulles International Airport taxi concessions operator, Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad wrote in a letter Monday to airport officials

The ambassador's letter comes as officials decide whether to award the operator, Dulles Taxi Systems, a new five-year concessions deal. A vote is expected on the contract today.

Two people said a manager at the company made a derogatory comment about Afghans belonging at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with other detainees in the war on terror, the ambassador wrote.

Mr. Jawad, who also sent a copy of his letter to the Department of State, said he was "personally shocked" by the comment. The letter says such discrimination is "absolutely unacceptable and illegal under the U.S. Constitution."

Charles O. King, president of Dulles Taxi Systems, yesterday said he had not seen the ambassador's letter. However, he said he had "heard references" about drivers complaining to the embassy.

"When I discussed the matter with my staff, I found no credibility to it," Mr. King said. "We don't practice discrimination of any kind."

Ashraf Haidari, an embassy spokesman, said yesterday that Washington Flyer drivers "are just normal, hardworking citizens," many of whom became U.S. citizens after leaving Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Mr. Haidari said the embassy sent the letter after numerous complaints from drivers.

"These were problems that were supposed to be addressed, but nothing has been solved," he said.

Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the airports authority, yesterday said officials would look into the ambassador's letter, just as they would follow up anytime "a customer complains about cab service."

There are more than 100 Afghan-born Washington Flyer drivers in the 650-driver fleet, according to the Dulles Airport Taxi Drivers Association. The group says it represents 620 of the drivers.

"If we were trying to discriminate, it seems unlikely that we would contract with more than 100 Afghan drivers," Mr. King said yesterday.

Drivers, who have staged eight strikes in the past eight months, have asked the airports authority to delay awarding the deal because of concerns about Dulles Taxi System's management practices.

Dulles Taxi Systems has held the contract since 2000. The contract gives exclusive rights to operate the authority's Washington Flyer taxi service, overseeing hundreds of vehicles that provide transportation to and from Dulles, which has no rail service.

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