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Taxi Zones and Phony Doctorates in The City of a Million Mysteries

In this confusing life, resistance to change can mean standing up for what's good and right or clinging to something sketchy just because it's familiar. Today, an example of each:

Resisting change is heroic work when it's a fight like the District's decades-long battle against its congressional masters, who yearn to scrap the city's effective zone system of calculating taxi fares.

The latest interloper, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, while lamely protesting that "I'm an old home-rule guy," told The Washington Post that the District "can't continue to avoid making a decision."

But of course the city has made that decision over and over again. It has just decided not to go Levin's way, and to the senator, that apparently means not making a decision.

In 2002, the D.C. Taxicab Commission voted 4 to 2 against installing meters in cabs, largely because switching to meters would make longer trips more expensive while short downtown hops would be cheaper -- thereby subsidizing more affluent users of the District's 7,000 cabs.

When the city didn't fall into line, Levin, who drove a cab while in law school, got busy. In the fall, he stuffed an edict into the D.C. budget, requiring Washington to switch to meters unless the mayor specifically opts to stand tall for zones.

There are about 200,000 reasons to keep the zone system: namely, all D.C. residents who don't own cars and use cabs not to flit from one fab fundraiser to another lobbyist bash but rather to get to a doctor's office or buy groceries. For those people, the zone system is what makes cabs affordable, creating a flat rate for trips within neighborhoods, even if the doctor is across the river and on the wrong side of a traffic jam.

The zone system protects Washington's unique status as the smallest city in the country where you can hail a cab on the street. The ability of meters to record where cabbies go would attract big companies that would seek to limit the number of taxis, push out individual operators and raise prices.

A study just released by the Taxicab Commission compared fares computed by zone and by meter and found what any rider already knew: Meters would jack up fares on long trips and cut the cost of a short hop.

"They keep studying and studying, and it always boils down to the same thing," says Taxicab Commissioner and former D.C. Council member Sandy Allen. "With zones, people in Congress might have to pay a few dollars more to get from Union Station to their house on the Hill. But the mother who has to drop the kids off at day care so she can get to work would have to pay a lot more with meters. I wish Congress would just leave us alone."

There is, as Levin argues, a problem with tourists not understanding the zones. But the city has already moved to fix that, finally putting into cabs an easily read zone map -- one in which north is, for the first time, up. Need more clarity? The city could install zone meters so riders could get accurate receipts. Forcing the city to scrap a system that has served riders well for more than 70 years is the ultimate in arrogance.

In this case, the more things stay the same, the better off we'll all be -- except, perhaps, for a few swells up on the Hill.

The eternal drive to change the D.C. school system is another story. Mayor Adrian Fenty and new Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee discovered this week that textbooks still aren't getting to schools and buildings still aren't air-conditioned. Now, here's another example of the same old-same old that confronts the new regime.

When the principal of H.D. Woodson Senior High School retired this spring, the powers that be handed interim control to Wilma Durham, a longtime administrator who has become a powerful symbol of what's wrong with D.C. schools.

As I reported in 2004, many teachers, parents and students complained that Durham, as principal at Walker-Jones Elementary, rejected offers of help from volunteers and prohibited students and teachers from talking in the cafeteria. But what really galled parents and teachers was this: Durham holds a phony doctorate from a diploma mill that was shut down by the FBI.

That news resulted in Durham's removal from Walker-Jones to a management post at Eastern High School. Her doctoral-level pay was cut from $115,226 to $113,751. Then-acting Superintendent Robert Rice defended Durham, saying she had "worked hard" to bring "order, direction, discipline" to Walker-Jones.

"Not a good thing," said Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso when I told him about Durham's new post at Woodson. "I've got no defense for that. I don't think anybody who knew about her past knew she was in there."

Rhee's spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson, said the chancellor did not know Durham was in charge at the school. "She's definitely not going to be the principal," Hobson said. "We are aware of her background. There will be another principal at Woodson by the opening of school."

Durham -- who filed a libel suit over my columns in 2005 that a D.C. Superior Court judge threw out -- said in a brief interview that she does not have the title of interim principal. Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson confirmed that Durham is a special projects administrator who is assigned by the central office to "drop into schools to help in short-term situations. She's just a substitute administrator." Henderson says Durham's phony doctorate "absolutely plays a role. That's the reason she has not been appointed to another principalship."

No one is eager to take credit for putting one of the city's most troubled schools, one with persistently appalling test scores and a disturbing dropout rate, in the hands of a person who found it acceptable to seek a degree from a bogus institution. But the fact that no one in the command structure bothered to point this situation out to the new chancellor does not bode well for Rhee's ability to get things moving on Fenty time.

By Marc Fisher |  August 2, 2007; 7:45 AM ET
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Comments

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Marc,

Half full or half empty?

There are misfits, malcontents, and incompetents throughout DCPS. They're moving to get this one out. My reading of it is that this "DOES bode well for Rhee's ability to get things moving..."

Posted by: KK | August 2, 2007 9:17 AM

Dear Marc:

Right on schools, wrong on taxis.

Hopefully the new regime at DCPS will use a power washer to rid the sytem of overpaid, phoney and under qualified bureaucrats and raise the level of performance and student achievement to something we can all be proud of.

As for the taxi meter debate, you have a number of things backwards. The current zone system FAVORS the K Street lobbyists and those with business on the Hill. Some have argued that it was designed that way. This is not a class warfare issue and you shouldn't try to make it ionto one. Under the zone system, a cabbie stuck with a single zone fare in heavy traffic is not compensated for his wait time. Excuse me but, it is only logical that a longer trip should pay a higher fare.

And as for the idea that the map is now easy-to-read and understandable. Well not really. And it is of no help to visitors to the District who are not familiar with the geography. You describe the zone system as "effictive?" Puhleeze! Most would would use adjectives like Byzantine, confusing, undecipherable, annoying and outmoded. Every day it's a different fare for the same trip. Tourists are beffudled and feel entrapped and ripped off. And so do longtime residents.

The bottom line is that DC is the only major city in the world that doesn't use meters. Meters would eliminate the arguments over fares. They would provide a record of the transaction. They would give a level playing field to all parties. They would cut down on tax evasion and the ongoing practice by some drivers to "pocket" money from the vehicle owners. Calibrations can make the premium higher for short hops and less burdensome to those who travel longer distances.

It is long overdue to impose meters in taxicabs in DC. It is time for DC to grow up.

Posted by: tonyb | August 2, 2007 10:31 AM

Dear Marc:

Right on schools, wrong on taxis.

Hopefully the new regime at DCPS will use a power washer to rid the system of overpaid, phony and under qualified bureaucrats and raise the level of performance and student achievement to something we can all be proud of.

As for the taxi meter debate, you have a number of things backwards. The current zone system FAVORS the K Street lobbyists and those with business on the Hill. Some have argued that it was designed that way. This is not a class warfare issue and you shouldn't try to make it ionto one. Under the zone system, a cabbie stuck with a single zone fare in heavy traffic is not compensated for his wait time. Excuse me but, it is only logical that a longer trip should pay a higher fare.

And as for the idea that the map is now easy-to-read and understandable. Well not really. And it is of no help to visitors to the District who are not familiar with the geography. You describe the zone system as "effective?" Puhleeze! Most would use adjectives like Byzantine, confusing, undecipherable, annoying and outmoded. Every day it's a different fare for the same trip. Tourists are befuddled and feel entrapped and ripped off. And so do longtime residents.

The bottom line is that DC is the only major city in the world that doesn't use meters. Meters would eliminate the arguments over fares. They would provide a record of the transaction. They would give a level playing field to all parties. They would cut down on tax evasion and the ongoing practice by some drivers to "pocket" money from the vehicle owners. Calibrations can make the premium higher for short hops and less burdensome to those who travel longer distances.

It is long overdue to impose meters in taxicabs in DC. It is time for DC to grow up.

Posted by: tonyb | August 2, 2007 10:33 AM

As per usual Mark you're wrong. About taxis. Making the cab fares more accurately reflect the cost of the trip is not "subsidizing more affluent users" it'll simply make longer or more time-consuming trips cost more, as economically speaking they should. Subsidizing is what's happening under the zone system. Concerns about the poor are not really a credible consideration for an efficient and effective transportation system. And your conclusion that meters would somehow lead to fewer taxis is so completely illogical I don't even know how to refute it.

Posted by: Stick | August 2, 2007 10:44 AM

"serving the riders well"? I think not. The only interest the current system serves is that of dishonest cabbies who charge people who don't use the system every day whatever they think they can get. Plus the current system isn't fair to honest cabbies. I work on 23rd St. If I take a cab from most places downtown to 22d & walk one block,I'm in a one fare zone, but if I go to 23rd, it's two fares. This makes sense?

The upshot is I take cabs here maybe twice a year but take them frequently when I'm in NY. On top of having a less cheat-proof system (assuming honest meters), the NY system doesn't penalize traveling with my spouse--having an extra person in the cab which costs the cabbie nothing extra but is another profit center in DC. I'd take cabs more here if the system made more sense--wouldn't that be better for the drivers?

Posted by: chief | August 2, 2007 11:20 AM

Chief, why are you complaining when you can walk the one block and save money?
The good thing about the zones is that you can see where you are and where you are going on the map. However many zones that is, that's your fare. The cabbie cannot say "I know a better way" and take you on a route that takes longer to get a higher fare.

Posted by: didnik | August 2, 2007 11:38 AM

I agree the new taxi map is way better, but I still don't understand the zone system. If it was 1, 2, 3, 4, I'd get that, but what happens when you go from 2A to 3F? Is it more if your driver decides to swing through 2D on the way from 2A to 2C? I still have no freaking idea if a driver is just making up the fare when I ride. Which I don't do very often, because I'm a short-haul girl, the prices are ridiculous for short hauls, and I can find plenty of other ways to travel short hauls. So I actually don't mind if the fares stay the way they are, because I have no particular desire to take a taxi from Farragut North to Georgetown. I can find other ways to do it. And it would be nice for the long-distance fare to be low on the rare occasion when I want to just take a cab all the way home.

Posted by: h3 | August 2, 2007 11:42 AM

It's not about saving the district's residents money for longer rides! It's about having a system that is FAIR and ACCOUNTABLE for all. EVERY city in the United States that has cabs has meters. You can still have flat fares even with meters (this is what they do in Boston). Meters cannot be tampered with. Of course, riders that are unfamiliar with DC can still be taken the long way by a cab driver, but they can look at the meter as it is ticking and decide whether they want to continue. Install meters now!

Posted by: DB | August 2, 2007 11:45 AM

If cabbies were compensated for their time stuck in traffic, it would be easier, not more difficult, to get a cab in rush hour and in bad weather.

But it is the absence of meters, not the zone system per se, that is the real problem. Use of a GPS-based meter system could retain the zone system but eliminate the hassles over fares and also print out receipts. It could even be programmed to factor in a time element that would help compensate cabbies for excessive -- that is, unusual -- delays.

If cabbies oppose even that kind of meter, then they will be confirming what most of us have suspected all along: they like the zone system because they love ripping people off.

Posted by: Meridian | August 2, 2007 11:51 AM

The zone system needs to change. It creates several problems and frequent conflicts between driver and passenger. The most notorious is when a driver, already with a passenger in a taxi, picks up other passengers and charges them each a full zone fare, dropping off and making stops along the way. This is a frequent practice and happens nearly ever time I try to hail a cab. It is absurd. This would obviously be eliminated with meters.

Posted by: Student | August 2, 2007 11:51 AM

The biggest problem I have with the taxi zones is when you take a taxi from the District to Virginia or Maryland. It's not unreasonable for someone to get in a taxi downtown and want to go to Arlington, but as far as I can tell there is absolutely no rate system in place to give these people a fair shake. Sometimes it's $15, sometimes it's $25. In my experience in other cities, such a ride should cost somewhere around $20 with tip, but it should be noted that usually neither the driver nor I have any idea how much it should be. I'd say as often as I get over-charged, the driver gets under-paid.

In instances when I'm taking a cab from the District to Virginia, I end up haggling with the driver about how much such a trip should cost. The only other places I've had to do this are Columbia and Ukraine. I expect such a system in those countries, but in the capital of the U.S.?

Posted by: jw | August 2, 2007 11:59 AM

That would be Colombia, not Columbia. NYC has a great cab system!

Posted by: jw | August 2, 2007 12:04 PM

If zoning was a better system, why is DC the only city with it? It's not like DC has all the world's poor people, or all the people without cars, etc. I'll bet that folks in DC use taxis pretty much like people in New York Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, and other decent sized cities. And in all of them there are poor people and people without cars who rely on taxis more.

If meters would be "unfair" to some, it's easy to change the rate structure. If you want to allow people to take short, cheap trips, lower the "drop" charge (the initial amount for getting in the cab) and raise the per mile/minute charge. If long trips are too expensive, do the reverse. And if cabbies need to pay for the meters, start with a 50c meter surcharge for a year to pay for them.

Posted by: ah | August 2, 2007 12:18 PM

The zone system is not favorable to DC residents. I live just over a line, so to get anywhere it is atleast two zones. And I can't tell you how many times I've traveled to the same place and have been charged different fares.

Posted by: Sl | August 2, 2007 12:21 PM

It's also important to take into account that under the zone system there is no incentive for a driver to make the long-haul trip because the price is low AND he is unable to pick up a fare at the drop-off location. That is simple economics. As a result, he will almost always pass up the long-haul fare. Yes this is illegal, but I can't tell you how often I've been passed up just getting from Adams Morgan to Chevy Chase, DC! The drivers are smart enough to know that taking many short-haul fares is still more profitable than taking the long-haul and as a result BOTH types of riders suffer from this. It's foolish to assume the system encourages honesty and subsidizes lower income riders when in reality it just subsidizes the drivers and takes advantage of us who need a ride.

Posted by: MJR | August 2, 2007 12:27 PM

Sorry, Mark, I gotta disagree with you regarding taxi cabs. With the current system, I am dissuaded from using cabs more often because it costs so much to go just a few blocks. One point that I haven't seen in the argument for switching to meters is that I imagine taxi usage would increase dramatically for short trips, probably proportionally more than the usage of cabs for long trips would decrease if the average long trip fare is higher than with zones.

For example, the nearest good grocery store is a little too far for walking with a lot of bags, and too many bus transfers would be required as well. Taking a taxi under the current system would be $9.80 to go what usually takes 5 mins. Under a meter system, the taxi fare should be much less, and I would be much more likely to take a cab more often.

Same thing with coming back from bars or clubs at night. I usually walk, but a $5 fare versus $10 will definitely encourage me to take a cab for those late and tired nights.

For long trips within the district, the metro system should be used to complement a meter system. Take the metro to the nearest station to your destination, and then hop in a cab for a few dollars to complete your trip. I'm wholeheartedly behind changing systems.

Posted by: A-lo | August 2, 2007 12:41 PM

How dishonest is it to characterize all short trips as Congressmen driving home, while all long trips are all the sudden magically only for poor people, with sick kids. Or something.

Poor DC residents need to take short trips too, just like rich ones take long rides (like say from Washington Post's offices back to their Chevy Chase DC homes). Making this out to be some sort of class warfare issue is deceptive and counterproductive.

It is almost always unfair to customers when prices are less variable. The more each ride is priced in accurate relation to its length and time, the fairer it is for customers.

Posted by: Reid | August 2, 2007 12:47 PM

The current DC taxi system is definitely bad news. I agree whole-heartedly with Tonyb's post, one of the first in the list. The zone system might work if you could TRUST THE CAB DRIVER. I've been ripped off so many times by DC cabbies it's rediculous. When I lived in Dupont and had to cab to National Airport, according to a zone system, shouldn't it be exactly the same amount, each and every time? Wrong. I've been charged all different amounts, and it wasn't because of rush hour fares or snow emergencies or additional passengers. They're dishonest, and that leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Also, I agree that $8 bucks isn't exactly cheap for a one-zone hop! The zone system definitely caters to the Hill folks, not the mom running errands around town. And my last point, that map (and corresponding chart!), even though it took them decades to print north side up (duh), is still baffling, especially to people from out of town. And then to figure it out at night, when it's dark? Pleeeeease. DC, wake up and install the meters.

Posted by: Bean | August 2, 2007 1:00 PM

All I know is that I've lived in this city for 19 years and I still don't know how much it costs to take a cab because the fare is always different. The maps in cabs are NOT easy to understand. I have never flitted between "fab fundraisers" nor am I a member of Congress, but I do on occasion like to take a short trip in a cab if there is inclement weather and it would be nice to know that I will only pay for the mileage I use. Don't even get me started on the abysmal physical condition of cabs in this city. The cabs in Sydney are shiny, new, clean, and you can see on the meter how much your trip is costing. That's all I care about.

Posted by: Jamie | August 2, 2007 1:00 PM

Meters would make long trips more expensive and short trips cheaper? Ummmm, only if the meters were calibrated to work that way. Surely in this highly educated city someone could come up with an ingenious system whereby a metered service could be weighted so that fares are on par with the current zone system. Except that riders would have the added benefit of a fee system that is easily understandable and have a record of the transaction. Hey, maybe there could even be a "subscription" service so that people that don't own cars and depend on taxis to get around could get a break.

Another case of narrow minded Mark Fisher only seeing things as one way or the other.

Posted by: Rational Man | August 2, 2007 1:04 PM

Oh, and wouldn't that be the day that Marc admitted he's wrong about something. I'd buy the champagne.

Posted by: Rational Man | August 2, 2007 1:11 PM

Marc, I usually agree with your views on city living, but your pro-zone stance with regards to taxis was bafflingly off-base.

1.) The zone system gives taxi drivers incentive to try to cheat passengers. And please, spare me your talk of a few "bad apples" taking advantage of clueless tourists. The problem is systemic, and it's exacerbated by...

2.) The utterly corrupt Taxicab Commission, which never met a complaint it didn't willfully ignore. I've complained about specific drivers at least five times in my 14 years in DC, and I've heard back from the commission exactly zero times, no matter how many times I try to follow up. The commission is nothing but a government-sponsored, corrupt union for taxi drivers, who know they won't be punished and therefore think they can get away with everything.

3.) You say the zone system works because it is cheaper for longer taxi rides. Well, no. I work nights downtown, and when the 30-series bus fails to show up to take me home, as it is wont to do, I have to take a cab. After all the fares and surcharges and tips and whatnot, it costs me a ludicrous $14 to go about 3.5 miles. I used to live an equal distance away on Capitol Hill, and the fare was only $11 (yes, I'm counting the recently added gas surcharge). It's ridiculous that trips of equal distance don't cost approximately the same, especially at night, when traffic is at a minimum.

Please, do your homework next time.

Posted by: McLean Gardens | August 2, 2007 1:27 PM

While a GPS system makes sense, it isn't going over so well in NYC. If we can't even get meters there's no way the corrupt DC taxi commission would let that fly here: http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/08/01/gps.taxi.strike.ap/index.html

Posted by: Rosslyn | August 2, 2007 1:43 PM

None of this will help me (or anyone) find a cab to take her to SE. On rare occasions I used to need to take a cab from G'town to SE -- drivers left me at the curb rather than take my fare. Cabbies would only accept my ride if I promised to pay at least double. Has this behavior changed? If not, who cares about meter v. zone -- either way, the system is broken.

Posted by: mojo | August 2, 2007 1:59 PM

Marc: Dude, what are you smoking? The cabbies in DC are some of the most dishonest people in all of Washington. I have lived here 5 years and when I go the airport, it's always some falsifed made up fare. When I complain and document the issue to the Taxi Cab Comission, it falls on deaf ears, never to be responded to again. It must be nice to drive to where you want to get to in your car, but for others, we are subject to this assoine system.

Posted by: z | August 2, 2007 2:00 PM

I'm bewildered as to how a zone system can result in different charges for people at different times. I work in DC and haven't taken cabs a lot, to be honest, but every time I've taken one it's always been the 'right' amount. Could people give a little more detail as to how they're being ripped off? Is it confusion in counting zone crossing? The plus I see to zones is that it *does* keep drivers making the shortest trip possible (because they don't get paid any extra for taking a longer *time*) - but please let me know what I have wrong! I also agree that for a long trip, where it's possible that either 3 or 4 zones could be 'crossed' it would create some confusion - maybe this is the problem that people are having?

I do agree that trips out of DC are a 'problem' - but let's work on one thing at a time,

Posted by: 20007 | August 2, 2007 2:08 PM

Has any one thought of building a meter based on a grid map of DC with a GPS transponder that counts the zones automatically??? This could include a screen allowing the customer to see the starting and ending points, perhaps also showing if the cab leaves and reenters a zone (I have been charged extra to skirt these little niches) A bio scanner could be installed forcing the driver to periodically check in w/the unit, eliminating the possibility of leasing or lending the cab to unlicensed drivers. A multitude of opportunity exists for the person who programs this and gets it through the government bureaucrocy...

Posted by: sufferin bastard | August 2, 2007 2:12 PM

Cabbies in NYC don't want GPS systems because they could no longer take off-the-meter passengers without getting caught.

Posted by: Mike Licht | August 2, 2007 2:19 PM

New Years 2000 I took a cab at 6pm to a restaurant and it was $7, I paid the guy $10 and got out. I took a cab back and a different guy charged me $10. I asked him to prove it on the taxi rate chart and he did. Somehow his was magically different than the other cabbie's. He screamed at me and threatened to call the cops if I didn't pay. I paid him $10. I got his license plates and reported him, but never heard back. There's no reason to trust the zones if a cabbie can produce a map that fits what he charged you. Cabbies should know, however, that had he charged me $7 he would have gotten $10. That's the galling part- his dishonesty cost him money. He will go through live impoverished of both spirit and money.

Posted by: DCer | August 2, 2007 2:36 PM

"the zone system is what makes cabs affordable"

Affordable? Are you kidding me? I took a cab from Columbia Heights down to to U St. and it cost $7.50. $7.50 for a 3/4 mile is a joke. That would have cost $4 max in any other city. Don't get me started on this side of the street vs. that side of the street.
As far as long trips are concerned, the city just isn't that big. From the DC/MD border down 16th to K is 6 miles. Most people who take a cab in the city stay in the city. "Meters would jack up fares on long trips and cut the cost of a short hop" For the purpose of the study, a long trip is 10-14.99 miles. Where are going to go in DC that is 10 miles, let alone 15? Is that even possible? If you need to go really far, that is what the metro or buses are for.
"The zone system protects Washington's unique status as the smallest city in the country where you can hail a cab on the street". More like the zone system protects cabies profits, none of which live in the city anyway.

Posted by: chef | August 2, 2007 2:48 PM

Marc obviously lives someplace where taxi rides are really cheap on the zone system. Otherwise, his argument makes no sense at all. The zone map is extremely confusing, even when oriented to true North. Cabbies in D.C. are a bunch of rip off artists. Period. They rip off their passengers and the rip off the government and their cab companies because they are fudging their receipts. Cash only systems are prone to fraud--just ask Metro and the parking lot attendants they used to employ. The only "fair" fare system is the meter. Any other scheme involving maps and zones is inherently political and will favor one region over the other.

Posted by: C-man | August 2, 2007 2:52 PM

It is clear that every tax paying D.C. resident (ie. Not Marc) feels the same way about the criminals that are D.C. cab drivers. No one benefits from zones except for cab drivers. I travel from National airport once a week and I have never paid the same fare. PLEASE CALL MAYOR FENTY AND YOUR COUNCIL MEMBER AND URGE THEM TO MOVE TO A METER SYSTEM!

Posted by: Sean Mackay | August 2, 2007 3:07 PM

The zone system favors residents? In which universe is this? Look at how the zones are drawn -- they only favor the K street power brokers. It does nothing for those of us who actually live here and have to make a cross town trip.

Posted by: cap hill | August 2, 2007 3:20 PM

I seriously thought this column was a satire until I released Mr. Fisher was actually supporting the zone system for taxis. I have lived here for 5 years and love DC but am seriously embarrassed that we have the zones. I am not a rich lobbyist and find the zones to be a confusing RIPOFF! Three of us paid $17 for a 4 minute cab drive earlier this summer. Mr. Fisher has lost his mind. DC has improved in so many ways over the years. Why oh why must we stay in the dark ages with the ridiculous zone system! Somebody PLEASE KILL THE ZONES so we can join the 21st century like every single other city in America.

Posted by: Precio Gonzales | August 2, 2007 3:20 PM

Posted by: Sean Mackay | August 2, 2007 3:21 PM

Posted by: Sean Mackay | August 2, 2007 3:21 PM

The zone system is only unfair to ignorant riders who dont know the system. If you learn the zone system there is no way that 1. anyone can cheat you
2. you pay more than if the fare were metered

Posted by: Aaron | August 2, 2007 3:23 PM

The zone system is only unfair to ignorant riders who dont know the system. If you learn the zone system there is no way that 1. anyone can cheat you
2. you pay more than if the fare were metered

Posted by: Aaron | August 2, 2007 3:23 PM

I can't tell you how many times I've been ripped off by DC cabbies overcounting zones or detouring through zones to get a higher fare (even when I specifically dictate a route). The zone system is unclear to the consumer and patently unfair. Just about the cheapest cab ride in the city is Union Station to Georgetown....can you say AFFLUENT USERS!!!!!!!!!! Meanwhile Union station to NE DC is 2x as much for 1/4 the distance! And that assumes that the crooks driving the cabs don't try to rip you off by claiming you crossed 3 zones instead of 2, and all of the other voodo they throw in to nickel and dime you. CALL THE MAYOR AND DEMAND A METER SYSTEM.

Fenty 202-727-2980
D.C. Council Member 202-724-8032

Posted by: Matt Tucker | August 2, 2007 3:25 PM

From foggy bottom to Rosslyn is a 1.5 mile drive. Yet, its a $12 taxi fare. From Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom, its a $4.25 fare.

In DC, you have the zones, the fuel surcharge, the extra passenger fee, the inclimate weather surcharge, and occasionally the traffic surcharge. These are applied at the whim of the driver.

Lawyers and bankers are more likely to know the law and thus to argue with the driver to get the proper fare than are their lower-income counterparts. I remain unclear on how this corrupt system helps the poor.

Posted by: bg | August 2, 2007 3:29 PM

A person traveling around near the Mall has the best zone, obviously. Wide open and convenient from, say, office to meeting. With the current zoning, we are subsidizing those who work and travel around in the immediate downtown area. But for the rest of the residents, most short trips cross a zone or two--Dupont to Adams Morgan, for instance. I shouldn't pay almost $10 to ride for a mile!

Posted by: DC | August 2, 2007 3:30 PM

dude: not defending Durham (because she's not the only one in District government who's running/destroying things/lives with phony credentials), but why are you qouting Reinoso as though he has a doctorate in ethics? Wasn't this the guy who plagiarized nearly half a master education plan and then proceeded to market it as original? For him to say "Not a good thing" on the case of Durham is like the blind leading the blind. Me thinks he's on his way out anyway - we'll wait and see when the Council gets back in September, but the summer hold on his confirmation vote doesn't exactly bode too well for him.

Posted by: wrathofmugen | August 2, 2007 3:38 PM

I wonder if Mark has ever been taken around in a roundabout route through several zones by a dishonest cabbie to run up the fare. It happens to tourists and visitors all the time; it happened to me before I knew my way around andcabbies will try it even after being told to use a specific route.

I fail to understand Mark's claim that installing taxi meters will "subsidize affluent short-trip users by making long trips more expensive". In fact, it doesn't even make sense because it assumes absolutes - that ALL short-trip travelers are affluent and ALL long-trip users are low-income. Is there a law that requires a minimum net worth to qualify for a short cab ride in DC? Are there income limitations for longer trips? I don't think so.

Meters are the way to go. If you stay in a cab longer, you should pay a higher fare, plain and simple. As it is now, the short-trip rider is "subsidizing' the longer trips.

Posted by: CEEAF | August 2, 2007 4:10 PM

oh yeah: this raging debate over meters vs. zone fares is one more great reason why this city/region needs to seriously expand its mass transit system in a way that's highly accessible and affordable. we need to be more creative about this, folks, than simply bicker over what's the better way to fare. last i checked, cabs are emission-emitting cars, too, and i'm surprised that many on D.C. streets have actually passed emissions tests. in addition, wouldn't it be great if a hard-working, honest-living single mother in SE D.C. who is too cash-strapped to own a car could simply jump on a much closer and more conveniently-placed Metro station? And, what's the deal with D.C. not having elevated rail lines, street rail/trollies and, yes, maybe even the cheaper, more robust monorail alternative, too? Lot of poor transportation planning.

Posted by: wrathofmugen | August 2, 2007 4:11 PM

Cabs in DC are filthy, wornout death traps, and many cab drivers have absolutely no knowledge of the city. To fix our cab system will take a lot more than moving to meters (even though that's probably a good first step).

Why is it that other cities have minimum standards for cabs, but DC clearly doesn't?

It's embarrassing, unsafe, and unpleasant.

Posted by: Hillman | August 2, 2007 4:23 PM

This is the first serious attempt I've ever seen to defend the zones. I've lived here for 6 years and hate them. 1) why shouldn't people going farther have to pay more? I don't hear you complaining that metro charges extra. 2) You accuse meters of helping people that don't need help. All zones do is let you go from K St. to the Hill without crossing a zone.

3)Almost everybody that can afford a cab to do routine errands won't suffer undue hardship from a slightly more expensive cab ride. If a slight increase causes huge harm, they probably should be taking the bus/metro anyway.

4)Meters just give so much more confidence that you aren't being ripped off. Which despite what the cabbies say, happens regularly.

Posted by: ugh | August 2, 2007 4:35 PM

You have the economics backwards when you say, "switching to meters would make longer trips more expensive while short downtown hops would be cheaper -- thereby subsidizing more affluent users of the District's 7,000 cabs."

Switching to meters would mean that everyone pays the same rate for their distance traveled. Of course that assumes that there is no "first 1/8 of a mile" fee which of course there would be. Such a fee would fall disproportionately on those who take short trips.

I think what you mean to say is that switching to the meters would eliminate the current forced subsidization paid by those who take short trips yet pay a high fare.

If the District's policy is to be that it wants needy residents subsidized it should enact a sensible program to do that, and not simply allow an odd system like we have now to persist.

Posted by: Guy | August 2, 2007 4:40 PM

Either those cabbies are thiefs or the zoning system is fatally flawed. I recently had a ride from Penn Square to Catholic U. cost me over $13. I will walk before giving those nickel snatchers another penny!

Posted by: johng | August 2, 2007 4:43 PM

"Meters would jack up fares on long trips and cut the cost of a short hop."

My first response would be: Well, yes, that would mean that the driver gets paid more for expending more time and effort, which probably would strike most of us as a fair way to be compensated for our work. And the rider pays a higher price for more service. Why is this a problem?

My second response is that the meter is simply a tool that measures time and distance. The rate can be set at any level the commission and the community thinks is proper. In most metered systems, including all of the ones in the Washington suburbs, the passenger incurs a basic fee the instant he climbs into a cab, and the price on the meter then rises with time and mileage. If you feel that long-haul riders deserve a break, you could structure the rates to charge a higher initial fee and a lower mileage rate, or a higher mileage rate for the first XX miles and a lower rate for more miles. The meter simply gives an honest count according to whatever rate system is approved. Why would anyone think this is a problem?

As a long-time D.C. resident who takes cabs only when I can't find a reasonable alternative (and I include a long walk among the reasonable alternatives), I don't understand how anyone would think that a metered system, used in just about every other jurisdiction in the country and transparent for both drivers and riders, wouldn't be an improvement over what we have now.

Posted by: rider | August 2, 2007 4:50 PM

I disagree with the premise that longer cab rides being more expensive and shorter ones being cheaper is somehow "subsidizing more affluent users of the District's 7,000 cabs."

How so?

Those who can afford to take a cab across town now will surely be able to do so under a metered system. Just last week, it ran me nearly $20 to go from 18th and M Sts to near CUA. I don't think the total would be more than that if the cabs used meters. Heck, I'd wager it'd actually be lower.

The reality is, without monitoring a large map, it's impossible to truly determine the number of zones you've crossed through. A driver is free to zip an extra two blocks over to take you through another zone to beef up that fare total. Don't tell me it doesn't happen, I've called several drivers on it myself. And I've only been able to do so because I live here and am well versed on the layout of the city. While meters couldn't stop this from ever happening, I can't see how they could make things any more dishonest.

Posted by: corbett | August 2, 2007 4:57 PM

I hate the cab zones!!

Not only do most cabs NOT have the map posted prominently, but I find the bump-up for crossing a zone line insane. Coming from Baltimore, where it was possible to go for 2 miles for about $6 in a metered cab, I was shocked to discover that it cost me $9 to go 7 blocks in D.C.!!

That day I was wearing "girlie shoes" and the weather was extremely cold and damp, and I was late for an appointment. Needless to say, having to shell out $9 (plus tip!!!) for a one-way trip was NOT welcomed, especially when I likely had to do the same to get back to work.

I have used a cab only a handful of times in the 4 years since. I have taken to wearing sneakers more often and simply walking from the Metro.

I'm all about the cabbies making a buck, but this is just silly.

Posted by: Maritza | August 2, 2007 4:59 PM

Oh, and NO congressman I've ever heard of takes a cab to an event!! I used to work for Congress, and *EVERYONE* uses their own car to get around, especially to "fab fundraisers"!!

Where do you hear this stuff?!

Posted by: Maritza | August 2, 2007 5:03 PM

Marc owes everyone an apology on this issue. I don't know who paid him off, or what he is on, but this was probably the stupidest article he has ever written. I bet he is one of the people profiting from a one zone trip doesn't care about anyone else. For shame marc, you pretend to be for the little guy, but your no better than the big wigs you attack.

Posted by: Jon | August 2, 2007 5:05 PM

"The zone system protects Washington's unique status as the smallest city in the country where you can hail a cab on the street."

I don't know where you live, but on Utah Avenue, NW, you absolutely cannnot hail a cab on the street -- nor can you call for one (or rather you can, but they won't come). Any system would be better!

Posted by: Ann | August 2, 2007 5:13 PM

Marc, dead on about the Walker-Jones principal. Years ago, I had a friend who taught third grade at WJ. She asked me if I could give a lecture on science, and I chose African-American inventors (interesting stuff!). Unfortunately, that was an experience I will never forget.

The teacher, besides being distraught about not timely receiving her paychecks, mentioned that many professionals from the GAO offering assistance and tutoring, but were turned away or treated badly. Also, the principal never seemed aware of scheduled tutoring. When the GAO poeple showed, the pricipal radomly selected students from my friend's class for the volunteers, without any regard whatsoever as to whether the selected student needed help.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 2, 2007 5:21 PM

I hail a cab every morning, and home from work every night. This has been for months. I went to the DC Taxi Commission Web site, where they have a fare finder, which for some reason they don't tell many people about. You put in your starting address and your ending address, and it tells you exactly what the fare will be. The fare is based on your starting point and your ending point, so it doesn't matter how many zones a cabbie goes through. I keep a printout of that page in my purse to show any driver who tries to charge me otherwise, but it's only happened once in all these months. Take a look at that fare finder. It should sooth all the ruffled feathers about not knowing what fares are. And remember, it's the starting and ending poibnts, not the number of zones you go through.

I understand the zone system, and I like it. I do not want meters just because every other city has them -- so what? GPS zoned meters would be ideal for those who insist meters are necessary.

But with regular meters comes a new kind of problem. I haven't encountered many cheating cabbbies (maybe because I expect the best from them just as I do from myself, and I always show respect). The temptation with tourists in the cab will be mighty with meters -- you can go slow and drive around, and you have a nice fat fare based on time and distance. Let's not put that temptation into humble people's hands.

Posted by: Van Ness | August 2, 2007 5:30 PM

After reading the comments on the recent Marc Fisher article regarding zones, I have to write you and add my voice to the others. I do not care, ultimately, whether we have a zone or meter system. The issue is more that the cabbies are dishonest. With the zone system you should be able to calculate from point A to point B exactly how much it will cost. Yet when you do have a discrepancy between your understanding of what zones you have traversed and the cab drivers, there is no recourse. if you complain to the DC taxicab comission they NEVER get back from you. but more importantly, you still have to pay the taxidriver HIS fee, because you are in HIS Car (maybe this is because I am a petite girl travelling alone) I have had cab drivers call the cops on me because i wouldn't pay and lock my luggage in the car because we couldn't agree. There should be a number to call 24/7 that would tell you AND the driver how much the fare should be. The fare calculator online isn't enough, because even when i check ahead of times i have been cheated. then you could at least have immediate recourse for discrepancies.

Posted by: Allison | August 2, 2007 5:32 PM

I too filed a complaint with the taxi commission. I left some items in a cab trunk but then later the cabbie claimed they were never there. The cab commission's response was a joke. I filed a complaint, and tried to follow up several times.

The response: absolute silence.

Posted by: Hillman | August 2, 2007 5:38 PM

Congressmen and lobbyists take cabs? Really? I never see that. Instead, I see them in their private cars, with their special Congressional tags that allow them to park anywhere.

Or they use a sedan service, not a cab service.

And working moms take cabs to get their kids to daycare?

In ten years of living in DC I've NEVER seen that. Not once.

Posted by: Hillman | August 2, 2007 5:40 PM

I never see women carting kids to daycare, either. I just see the open strollers blocking aisles and doors on buses and sunway cars --just adds so much to the joy of commuting.

Posted by: Attentive | August 2, 2007 6:06 PM

"I never see women carting kids to daycare, either."

I meant to type "I never see women carting kids to daycare in cabs, either."

Oh and "sunway" should be "subway."

Time to call it a day ... and head for Metro!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 2, 2007 6:38 PM

I always thought the zone system was just devised as a way for cabbies to cheat tourists. As many people here have said, why is the fare sometimes different for the same trip? And you can't argue with the driver, because you would have to know the geography of DC well enough to prove you'd gone through more zones than necessary, and who can do that? I hate the zone system, and and would welcome meters so I could finally be sure that I wasn't being cheated by the driver.

Posted by: Alex | August 2, 2007 7:17 PM

The entire DC cab system is the pathetic and needs to be overhauled. DC is the only city in the US with such ridiculously high fares. Why should it cost extra to have more people in the car? The driver doesn't expend any more time going from point A to point B, whether there's 1, 2 or 3 of us in the car. Why shouldn't it be to the passengers' advantage to split the fare?

Posted by: olivia | August 2, 2007 8:58 PM

Isn't a lot more plausible that poor people using cabs to go to the grocery store or take their kids to day care are making short trips than long?

Also, one point that hasn't been made is that meters make possible lights on the top of cabs so you know if it's available! My personal pet peeve is that it is very hard to see if a cab is occupied or not. Head rests look like passengers. People slump down or are just short. I've waved at many occupied cabs, and I've let cabs go by that were empty. Very frustrating.

Posted by: Ex-NYer | August 3, 2007 12:07 AM

I just read all the comments posted and it seem that the lobby for meters are working over time to make the point meters should be in taxicabs in DC.

But where is the voice of the poor and elderly when the DC government make sure those voice's are not heard by not holding a community forum at the MLK Libary on 8/1/07

What folks don't read or hear in main stream media is that the poor and elderly citizens in DC on fixed or low incomes have 24 hour transportation that they can afford at end of the trip.

At some point in time folks are going to understand the rich black history of the DC Hack System that dates back even before the Civil War.

When the only bussiness a black person could own in America, was a Hack.

So you see the DC Hack System is more than just about a meterd taxicab system it's about Independence and Freedom.>>Peace and Love>>Billy Ray, Yellow Cab #864

Posted by: Billy Ray Edwards | August 3, 2007 2:18 AM

Billy Ray,

How about the "poor and elderly" who get gouged and charged $8.00 for taking a cab for two blocks because they can't walk it?

Posted by: Jackson321 | August 3, 2007 5:14 PM

I posted a long, well thought out rebuttal to all of Marc's points a few hours ago. Somehow it suddenly disappeared. Why is this? I thought it was very well reasoned. The only personal attack I made was that he is divorced from reality on this issue.

Posted by: Jackson123 | August 3, 2007 5:17 PM

Jackson,
As you very well know every comment That I have read has some what made your same point,but did you get my point.

As a 40 year DC Hacker I stand on Emancipation after the Civil War of a the black man in America,too have the Independence,and Freedom to do what is regulated by his or her license to qrote a fare.>>Peace and Love>>Billy Ray

Posted by: Billy Ray Edwards | August 3, 2007 10:30 PM

Billy, Billy, Billy! Oh, my.

Forty years of hacking just ain't gonna cut it, if you're claiming to be an expert on Emancipation-era public transit, you youngster!

Posted by: Bob S. | August 4, 2007 3:06 AM

Jackson,
I have said to you learn your history, I have already had a seat at the feet some old master DC Hackers Whose father/fathers was hackers in this era.

MLK Libary has alot of history that I"ve read and you just might want to check out some things Sam Smith,has written on this hack system.

Oh Yea, by all means check an article that was in the Nation, a few years back on a DC Hacker last name of Murdock,then you might understand the kind of folks that I knew and got oral history from on this Hack System.

I would love to debate this issue all the way up to the present time.

But then what I know would scare the H--- out of some people and folks that work in homeland security should already know at no time since the Civil War to the Viet Nam War has the American born citizen not been the largest part of the DC Taxicab System work force.

How and Why did this happen?

Could it be in the early 80s that hack license's was sold out the back door of the DC Taxicab Commission and the system never been purged.

I can remember when I started to hack I was allowed to hack all Federal Enclaves even from across the river on the pentegon stand to any where in the main land USA and back to DC.

I do know why homeland secuity is pushing the DC Government so hard to control with meters or GPS our new Emancipated/independent/Freedom Seekers.

Let me get back to your remark abount being an expert on
Emancipation-era public transit.

And this only going to take some common knowleage.

What in the Emancipation-era public transit system is the one job white men to this day don't like to do that has made Washington DC one of the most cleanst city's in America, if you don't know it's walk behind a horse and pick up you know what,if that don't make an exspert I sure picked up on yours.>>Peace and Love>>Billy Ray

Posted by: Billy Ray Edwards | August 4, 2007 8:51 AM

Your coverage of Durham is just one example of what goes on with DC school administrators. Do you remember the principal of Cardozo who had all those chemical hazards? Do you know where he went next? He became an assistant superintendent, supervising a whole region of principals. (I believe his name is Reginald Ballard.) As the old song says, "You gotta have friends."

Posted by: Bill Hosp | August 4, 2007 4:03 PM

Mark, you can have a downtown surcharge to get all of those K Street fatcats with a meter.

I stopped taking cabs in DC after realizing that I hadn't been charged the correct number of zones in over a year.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 6, 2007 3:32 PM

The many years of "articles" by Marc Fisher on the unique and very corrupt DC taxicab zone system have continued to show that he wasn't allowed, like 99.9% of us, to develop and exercise the academic discipline of knowing how to responsibly research the facts of an issue before we tried to address it.
This failure by Fisher and so many other "reporters" to responsibly research the corrupt history of the unique DC Taxicab Zone System has resulted in very few knowing that DC initially did use meters until Bell and City Cab Companies started to be cheated by their drivers. The rental fee of the newly invented car as a DC taxicab in the late 1920's and early 1930's had been an established percentage of the weekly gross income as indicated on the meter. Mr. Fisher's lack of research skills has had him totally ignore the fact that during the times of the early 1930's this very racist society had allowed the white cab drivers to work out quick oral contracts with the white passengers and would fail to engage the meter. Bell and City Cab resolved this conflict by taking the meters out of their cabs and coming up with an unapproved zone map that left the rental fee to be an established weekly amount.(regardless of how much the drivers made they had to first make the rental fee)
A brief contact with the Public Service Commission will provide copy of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC order no. 956 dated 11/06/31) which listed 20 very impressive reasons why the zone system was initially,"denied to replace the use of meters in DC taxicabs." How many are aware of that fact?
A visit to the Library of Congress Law Library will allow copy of Judge Adkins decision (PURC 1932 pg.1) which had him totally support every aspect of PUC order no. 956. On pages 17 and 19 of Judge Adkins decision even Marc Fisher will be able to read Judge Adkins stating, "In my view the zone system is only a means to exploit the labor of the driver."
The Google.com research service has respected my research on this issue so indication as the subject on google.com of "The Unchallenged DC Taxicab Zone Fare System" or "Karl Rudder's Blog" will provide a detailed copy of my brief and detailed research on just how Washington DC came to be the only major city in this entire world that does not use a meter to equitably compute taxicab fares as well as reliably record and tax the income of DC Taxicab companies and drivers.
Congress, DC politicians and "reporters" of the local news media belong on "Believe it Or Not" due to all for 75 years being subservient to Congress and corporate interests as the continued exploitation of the DC taxicab drivers has continued while "white" people have continued to get the cheapest and most reliable taxicab service in downtown DC!
The exploitation of DC taxicab drivers has now been extended to African people who are only trained to service the downtown and the NW area of the city.
Before any of us try and decide to form an opinion or to take a stand on this issue I will trust that the undeniable elements of the Truth will still be allowed to be considered.
The Examiner published my letter to the Editor on June 6,2007 that was entitled, "Taxi zones fleece the public in more ways than one."
Mr. Fisher and many other "reporters" and local and national politicians are in need of having informed individuals review the facts of this issue and allow it to be better known that,"The Truth may be able to be hidden but it will never be able to changed!"

Posted by: Karl Rudder | August 7, 2007 1:01 PM

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