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Posted at 2:29 PM ET, 05/ 7/2008

Taken for a Ride

By Fritz Hahn

If there's a meter installed in a cab, the driver's required to use it. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

I'd been promising myself that I wasn't going to write a taxis-with-meters rant on the blog, since it's already been covered ad nauseum in the paper, but after last night, I'm feeling a little steamed.

Leaving Cafe Saint-Ex, I decided to share a cab back to Woodley Park with a friend who lives near me. We couldn't believe our luck when the first cab that I flagged had a meter on the dashboard. I gave the driver the address, and he took off without turning on the meter. We pointed that out to him and he said that he didn't have to use it until June 1. That's an outright lie -- the Taxicab Commission has said that if cabs have meters installed, they have to use them. My first thought is that the cabbie was out to make a few bucks, since the fare from Saint-Ex to Woodley Park should be more than $2 cheaper than it would be under zones, according the's handy Taxi Fare Estimator.

The driver wasn't having any of it, though, and finally my friend had enough. She asked him to flip down his visor so she could see his hack license. He did, and asked why, and she replied that she was going to get his driver number so she could report him to the Taxicab Commission in the morning. At this -- and we were close to our destination -- the driver said, "Fine. I won't charge you for this ride. I don't want your money." My friend incredulously asked whether it would be easier to just follow the law and charge us using the meter, but the driver kept grousing at us.

When I got to my destination, I tried to give him something -- a tip that was less than a two-zone trip would have cost -- but he threw my cash back at me and told me I was cheap for not giving him $8.80 plus tip. I replied he should be following the law, and he sped off.

What makes it even more frustrating is that this isn't the first problem I've had since meters were installed. One night, after cocktails at the Tabard Inn, I tried to hail a cab with a meter at 18th and N, because I was curious about how much it would cost compared to the usual two-zone fare home. It took 12 cabs before I found one driving around with a meter.

I've got all the info I need to make a complaint, and will, but in the meantime, here's the moral of the story: If you get in a cab and there's a meter on the dashboard, the driver has to use it. If they refuse, telling you that they don't have to use it until June, that's a lie. Get their driver number from the passenger-side visor, get their license plate number, call the D.C. Taxicab Commission and complain (202-645-6018), especially if the incident is during business hours.

Readers, want to share your taxis-with-meters stories? We're looking for the positive as well as the negative.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | May 7, 2008; 2:29 PM ET
Categories:  Misc.  
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man, you love the regulations don't you

Posted by: mike | May 7, 2008 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Taxis in this country seem to consistently be a joke, airport-exclusive services being the exception. Try a few cabs in London and you'll wonder why the US by comparison is so awful across the board...

Posted by: LongingforLondon | May 7, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

On Friday, I waited 25 minutes for a cab with a meter at 18th and Columbia. When we finally got one, he purposely drove extremely slow and took congested streets. I hope it's not an indication of the service we'll get with meters.

Posted by: Kelly | May 7, 2008 3:30 PM | Report abuse

you had BETTER file that complaint too. if the cabies know they can get away with this type of cr*p, then they will. i am SOOO tired of dealing with their BS.

Posted by: tim copsa | May 7, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I had an excellent experience--I took a DC cab from DCA to Bethesda on Monday evening. The meter was on and running, and it was fair. Plus the cab driver was SUPER NICE. There are good apples and bad apples, and you should report any of the taxi drivers who refuse to conform to the reality of meters.

Posted by: DB | May 7, 2008 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I got in a cab last night where it was absolutely obvious that the cabdriver had hung a baseball cap over his meter. I said "is that a meter" and he said no. I didn't feel like getting in a fight so I just paid my typical fare. I can't wait until June 1st.

Posted by: amy | May 7, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I have a fun cab story from last night.

I'm on the Eastern end of Gtown where M hits Penn. I'm with a friend on crutches so we're hailing a cab to go over to Dupont. Quick ride. Normally two zones but with meters this should be the type of ride that is cheaper under the meter system. I start sticking my hand out and cabs start flying at us like crazy. The first guy pulls up, I see he has no meter, I say "I want a meter" and wave him off. He rolls window down furher and asks, "Where you going?!" I move back and another cab is coming up. Same conversation. Then another. This guy has the nerve to yell back "There are no meters yet in DC!" I say, "Yeah there are!" Right as I say that, the meter gods smiled down upon me and the nicest taxi driver pulls up with a meter, we get in, and drive off, glaring back at the lying SOB who tried to tell me there are no meters in DC. hahaha. To top it off, I had a great converstation about the meter with the cabbie. He told me how the Hill folks (including the guy who helped spur the change to meters, of course) are getting SCREWED with the meter. They take a lot of longer rides from the Hill to Gtown or to Downtown and used to get a pretty sweet one zone deal. Now those fares are up around $10 or more.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2008 10:09 AM | Report abuse

F*ck DC cab drivers

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I got lucky last night, I found a cab right away with a meter and was not taking it very far at all...from Mass. and 14th to 21 and N St. NW. He was very friendly, used the meter, and it cost me less than $5 (before tip). Is it really that hard for all cabbies to follow his example?

Posted by: Erin | May 8, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Last Saturday I got into a cab with a meter. My boyfriend and I were in such a hurry, that we didn't notice until we were halfway there that he hadn't turned his meter on (even though it was in plain sight). We were running late, so I didn't want to pick a fight and have him throw us out of the cab, but I had wondered what the response would be if I had said something. Apparently not good!

Posted by: Sarah | May 8, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I've been in a few with meters in the past week, odd because I wasn't looking for them, but have ended up with more metered cabs than not.

Each driver asked me what I thought about the meters, and before I could even respond, has launched into a sob story about how they won't make money any more.

I just ignore them, pay my fare, and get out. It's annoying to listen to their complaining--I don't agree with them, but I really am not interested in fighting--I'm just interested in getting to my destination safely. They don't get that their sob story won't get them a larger tip or anything from me.

I look forward to the day when they all have working meters and stop crying to me about it. I've been ripped off way to many times in my 8 years here to have any sympathy any more.

Posted by: eugene | May 8, 2008 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I had a great experience with a metered DC cab last night: from downtown to the State Theater in Falls Church for a concert.

Total fare? 13 bucks. Who knows how much a cab driver would have charged before? Service was fine (that's what tipping is supposed to encourage). But most of all, the fare seemed fair.

I'm sure there will be downsides. I'm sure cabdrivers will make somewhat less money than before. And, because driving is less lucrative, fewer drivers will make themselves available. Cabs might be harder to find.

And to the poster who talked about London cabs: you're absolutely right-- they're the best. They go through rigorous screening. But there's a *huge* downside to them: there aren't enough London cabs when you need them and they are absolutely the most expensive in the world. Let's hope DC gives us the best of both worlds.

Posted by: TwistedTidings | May 8, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

To the poster who took a super nice cab from DCA to Bethesda. Ummmm.... DCA is in Virginia, and Bethesda is in Maryland. Both of these states have always used meters and neither is in DC. Thanks for the story, but it doesn't really apply.

Posted by: va | May 8, 2008 6:52 PM | Report abuse

To the "expert" who commented on the DCA-to-Bethesda traveler, cabs from DCA to MD are DC-based cabs so before you're condescending to someone and think you know it all, know what you're talking about.

Posted by: va | May 8, 2008 8:27 PM | Report abuse

I live in VA and routinely take cabs home from DC. I have learned to ALWAYS negotiate the price ahead of time since i typically know the approximate mileage and what the rate card is. There actually IS a rate card. If they don't agree to the price, I tell them buh-bye. And for the honest drivers, they get a nice tip and I thank them for their honesty.

Posted by: iHateDCcabs | May 8, 2008 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Cab drivers need to remember that they make a living from their passengers and start acting like it. Bad attitudes, filthy interiors, poor driving and the whole anti-meter issue have disgusted me so much that i try to avoid using them as much as possible - one passenger less for them to deal with.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2008 10:39 PM | Report abuse

I had an experience with a taxi driver this morning who told me the same thing mentioned above -- that meters don't take effect until June. And then he went on to say that he'd heard over the radio that he didn't even have to install one because it was being overturned. I didn't say anything because I was late to work and didn't want to be later, and he continued to rant for more than half the ride.

Bottom line for me is this. Taxis are my emergency backup if the bus is really late when I'm going to work. I can barely afford them, but they're better than watching my boss freak out because I'm 5 minutes late. With the old system I didn't tip often because the fares were so high. I felt bad about it, but there wasn't much I could do, and I also felt like I was being overcharged for living in DC. However, under the new meter system, I can better afford to give a tip for taxi drivers that give me good service, and I will if I feel they deserve it. I also think other people who were previously unable to afford taxis may take them now, which is good for cab drivers.

Will drivers make less? Maybe. But if they want to make up the difference in the fare, maybe providing good customer service and inspiring people to tip them would help, instead of, you know, making their riders feel like hostages in their backseat as they rant about meters.

Posted by: Chris | May 9, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

These meters are so great. Once they get rid of the extra passenger surcharge and encourage people to share a ride, it will be as good as it gets.

Posted by: cha | May 9, 2008 6:24 PM | Report abuse

The riding public if given a chance would rather ride for free. I've taking a couple of cabs in the past few days and had good experiences. Some of these stories I beleive are LIES just insensitive people trying to jump on the I hate cab drivers band wagon.

To be honest I don't blame the cab drivers there getting the short end of the stick on this one.

Posted by: Kyle | May 12, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

With our Economy in the worst condition it's been in for years and rising gas prices, I have to side with the cabbies on this one. Think about this how many of you you could survive with a pay cut like the Mayor has subjected the cab drivers too.

Most of you expect the cabbies to lay down for something that you youselves would not tolerate.



Posted by: Loren | May 12, 2008 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Well, very interesting comments i've been saved by DC Cab Drivers to many times to group all of them in the same basket.

Posted by: runninlate | May 12, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I had a great experience with a cab driver with a meter. On Friday night we traveled from O and Wisconsin to north Glover Park and he explained exactly what was different and how much it would have cost without a meter.
He also said cabbies with meters are getting screwed and are currently losing money, so I would encourage you to try to take cabs with meters if not only to save money yourself, but to support those cab drivers who have followed the law and have already switched.
That being said, that was the first cab I have been in with a working meter since May 1.

Posted by: gtown | May 12, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

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