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Punting Taxis: Ouch, That Hurts

Six times, the D.C. Taxi Commission voted yesterday. Six times, they failed to reach a majority. Six times, they could not agree on whether to keep the District's unique zone fare system, force cabbies to install meters similar to those found in most of the rest of the world, or compromise on a technological innovation that marries the zone and meter systems.

The commission, many of whose members were installed by former mayor Anthony Williams expressly to accomplish his desire to kill Washington's venerable zone system, punted the whole issue to Mayor Adrian Fenty, who has until Oct. 17 to choose the future structure of the taxi business in the city.

The deadline is the result of yet another chapter in the sordid history of congressional mucking around in the governance of the District. U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan doesn't like the zone system, so rather than leave it to Washington's democratic processes, he issued a fiat: He slipped a requirement into the law that the District adopt a meter system by this October unless the mayor specifically opts out of the change. That's the predicament Fenty now finds himself in--without so much as a bit of guidance from his own taxi commission.

While the commission failed to take a stand on anything to do with the fare structure, the commissioners at least did one thing--they released the results of surveys of cabbies and riders that the commission's chairman had tried to keep secret before this meeting.

The surveys show both riders and drivers to be fairly ambivalent about how to figure out fares. By far the largest group of drivers, 503 of the 700 surveyed, want to keep some form of the current zone system--either leaving it exactly as is (177 drivers), or installing newfangled zone meters, which use satellite technology to track when a cab crosses a zone boundary (326 drivers.) Only 183 drivers said they want the kind of meters that measure distance--the type used in most cities.

In the riders survey, conducted by the Zogby polling concern, Washington cab passengers showed a clear preference for the zone approach that has served the city well for more than 70 years: 61 percent of those polled came out in favor of keeping the zones (28 percent who like the system exactly as is, plus another 38 percent who like the zone meters idea), while only 33 percent selected traditional time and distance meters as their preference.

Chief reason for opposing meters: Under the zone system, you always know what the fare will be when you get in the cab. With meters, you are subject to much higher fares because of time spent in traffic.

One clear finding in the rider survey was the high level of interest in the compromise system--the new zone meters that some Yellow Cab cars have been experimenting with in recent months. The machines calculate the number of zones you've traveled through--a nice advantage for tourists and others not familiar with the city's streets--and provide a paper receipt. (Of course, this is one reason why some drivers might not like the new kind of meters--the D.C. cab system is a delight for those who might want to provide the IRS with a, um, slightly less than rigorous accounting of their income.)

So, what will happen? Mayor Blackberry is a gadget fan. I have zero inside info on this, but my gut tells me that Fenty will go for the innovative and cutting edge choice and choose the zone meters--a move that will allow the mayor to stand tall for home rule by rejecting Sen. Levin's colonial edict, yet still modernize the city's cab system. Zone meters--if they work--would eliminate just about everything that's troublesome about the zone system, while keeping its advantages.

What do you think the mayor will do?

By Marc Fisher |  September 12, 2007; 6:08 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

the problem I have with the zone system is that a lot of cabbies take advantage of riders that are not knowledgeable about the system and stiff them.

Posted by: JIM KORICKI | September 12, 2007 7:38 AM

"Chief reason for opposing meters: Under the zone system, you always know what the fare will be when you get in the cab. With meters, you are subject to much higher fares because of time spent in traffic."

Well...that depends on what trip you're taking, doesn't it? If this statement were actually true (which it clearly is not), 100% of cabbies would be rejecting the zone system because it hurts profits. Marc, we know you love the quaint home-grown zone system, but jeesh...your misinformation campaign is beginning to reach Rovian proportions!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 12, 2007 8:04 AM

Meters, whether they measure distance or zones, are "innovative and cutting edge" now?

Posted by: Dan | September 12, 2007 8:14 AM

Sen Levin was right. Another fine example of why DC should not have home rule. Congress needs to go back to the days when they appointed the mayor. And DC should never have voting representation ever in Congress. And if you dont like it move!

Posted by: vaherder | September 12, 2007 8:25 AM

I rarely take cabs in DC, so can't claim to really understand the zone system. However, meters can be understood by everyone - not only tourists, but also residents and suburbanites who might only take a cab a few times/year.

"With meters, you are subject to much higher fares because of time spent in traffic."

This sounds perfectly fair to me. Why should the driver have to eat the costs when the passenger decides to travel during a heavily congested time?

Anyway, almost every arguement that Mark has put forth on this issue (now and in the past) against meters can be dealt with by adjusting how the meters work. There are many variables to play with that can affect the final fare.
-want to punish short trips? increase the initial charge
-want to encourage short trips? decrease the initial charge, increase the per mile charge
-don't want to charge for traffic? only include a per mile charge, not a per time charge
-want to encourage long trips? have a graduated per mile scale that decreases above a certain threshold (say, 5 miles).

I recently took several cabs in Chicago (which uses normal distance/time meters) and was amazed at how cheap the fares were. Meters do not hurt riders!

Posted by: CB | September 12, 2007 8:45 AM

"Chief reason for opposing meters: Under the zone system, you always know what the fare will be when you get in the cab. With meters, you are subject to much higher fares because of time spent in traffic."

Come on Marc, this is a joke right? The poster is right, your ignorance of the fares issue is remarkable. I'm glad that every time you take the same trip you get the same fare but you are the only person I know in this city that this happens to. I have to take a cab to Rosslyn a few times a week for work and end up paying a different fare - EVERY - SINGLE - TIME. Of course on the way back, I have a meter so I know exactly what I'm going to pay. But every time I go I pay a different fare. The best part is is that you can barter with the driver and they ALWAYS ask you what do you normally pay and then cut the fare. I know you see this barter system as quaint and harkens back to the old days when times were simpler - or some sort of nonsense - but its really absurd.

Meters tell you exactly what you pay and thats that. There is no good reason NOT to go to a meter. NONE. Your quote above is even more absurd because its in a METERED CAB that you always know how much you are going to pay. Saying that "Under the zone system, you always know what the fare will be when you get in the cab" is possibly the most ridiculous thing you have ever written in your time at the Post.

This quaint notion that somehow we are all better off not knowing how much we are paying until we arrive at our destination is absurd. Wake up Marc.

Posted by: Doug | September 12, 2007 8:46 AM

The zone meters are the worst of both worlds: Not only does it keep the arbitrary zone fares, but the drivers have to pay for a device that is the same or close to the cost of distance-meters. This takes away the only argument in favor of zones: it allows for somewhat easier entry of drivers in and out of the market.

The most important feature of the DC taxi situation is the relatively open licensing of cabs, keeping access up and fares down.

Posted by: Steve | September 12, 2007 8:49 AM


The notion that the zone system is easy to understand is counter to my experience in the city. I'm a life long resident and have used the cabs (when they'll stop for me) for more than thirty years and I can safely say that the zone system is a failure. On many occassions I have been charged different fares for the same trip or have been taken through several zones when a striaghter trip would have been more expedient. The cabbies in DC need to be reigned in. To my experience the zone systems is not well explained in each cab, and is not well enforced by the commission. Although in some cases the meter system will result in higher fares (in heavy trafic for instance), meters will clearly display to the passenger the true cost of the trip as well as any add on fees due to fuel prices and the like.

Posted by: Jeffrey Young. Sr. | September 12, 2007 9:02 AM

In defference to the apparently highly uniformed "opinions" of previous commentators, the Zogby polling results clearly indicate that the DC populace is comfortable maintaining the current system albeit with a GPS interface to definitevely determine the number of zones. The argument about cabbies taking advantage of riders for zones is spurious as it can also be easily accomplished with meters if the rider does not know the geography of their desintation.

Posted by: jj | September 12, 2007 9:06 AM

Yes jj, but how many of these "residents" are the folks that frequently leave DC in cabs and how many are residents that just go from their home to the grocery store once a week. Yes, this makes a difference.

Marc continually glosses over this in his columns and chats by saying yeah zones are better - unless you leave DC - but in an area like this people leave the district ALL THE TIME. This is not a minor point to gloss over. Once you leave the district you are at the mercy of the cabbie and his clipboard where he pretends to add up the mileage and give you an arbitrary number. Some kind of meter system eliminates all of that.

Posted by: Doug | September 12, 2007 9:13 AM

Doug and some others posting here are talking about trips between the District and the suburbs--in Doug's case, over to Rosslyn. Unfortunately, the D.C. zone system is in force only up to the city's borders. Once you cross into Virginia or Maryland, the zone system goes out the window and a mileage-based fare calculation kicks in. This, in my experience, is where the fraud, corruption and confusion enters. The cabbies are supposed to note their mileage when you get in the cab and then again when you arrive at your destination. Then they take their laminated mileage chart and look up your fare. But as anyone who's used D.C. cabs to go to and from the airport knows, you rarely get the same fare quoted for the same trip.
A flat fare to the airports from downtown would be the easiest solution--lots of cities do that. Or the zones could be extended into the nearby suburbs.

Posted by: Fisher | September 12, 2007 9:15 AM

Fix the easy stuff, too. In every other city in the world, empty cabs have top lights on; cabs with fares turn top lights off. In DC, empty cabs have top lights off; cabs with fares turn top lights on. Absurd, especially at night.

Posted by: Mike Licht | September 12, 2007 9:24 AM

vaherder wrote: "Another fine example of why DC should not have home rule." Oh please...this hardly ranks as a key issue for or against home rule and/or a vote in Congress. Besides, to think Congress in its current form could do any better governing the city is folly. Not to mention the zone system orginated under and was perpetuated by Congressional oversight for years before home rule.

jj wrote: "polling results clearly indicate that the DC populace is comfortable maintaining the current system albeit with a GPS interface to definitevely determine the number of zones..." I could just as easily say the polling numbers clearly indicate a mandate from the populace to rid themselves of the CURRENT zone system (71% of total surveyed), but that some of those (38% of total surveyed) are willing to accept a zone meter as some form of compromise to enable the change.

Posted by: SW Waterfront | September 12, 2007 9:36 AM

Marc, your spinning of statistics is shameless in its transparency. Riders and drivers are not "fairly ambivalent," as you write. They are overwhelmingly in favor of change. Only 25% of drivers and 28% of passengers support the status quo.

Posted by: washington, dc | September 12, 2007 9:38 AM

Marc, that 61% of cab passengers like the zone system would make a great case for keeping the zone system -- except for one HUGE problem. This is a biased sampling. Presumably, there are people who don't like the zone system (costs them too much money, etc.) and, therefore, don't use cabs or, at least, use them less frequently than they would if there were a meter system. Therefore, the people who are already cab passengers disproportionately represent those who like the zone system. Perhaps a sampling of the whole city or even just those who might take a cab depending on the fare system would be better.

Posted by: Ryan | September 12, 2007 9:39 AM

Ryan is absolutely correct. The zone system is the main reason why I try avoid taking DC cabs at all times. When I am forced to take one, I know that cabbie can't figure out that zone map any more than I can, and takes advantage of it. No one can decipher the ridiculous zone system. I don't understand why DC, in other ways a great city full of many smart people, has to be different from every major city in the world.

Posted by: cpl | September 12, 2007 9:51 AM

Hey Doug -

i pay the same fare every time. because i know what the fare is before i get in the cab. and then i don't even ask him what the fare is, i just give him the money. i like the zones. i hope they stay

Posted by: uhh, yeah | September 12, 2007 10:00 AM

I don't understand where you are getting your information but your statement in yesterday's column that in DC it's easier to get a cab than in most big cities is ridiculous. When did you last try to get a cab in most DC neighborhoods. New York is much easier.

I think it is time we came into the 21st century and went to a meter fare based on milage and time. Yes, it may cost more to go a long distance in rush hour but then people will pay appropriate fares across the board. Going from 17th and Q street, NW to the Washington Hilton in rush hour with an extra passenger- now a 5 minute taxi ride even in rush hour- costs $12.50. That is just silly.

Also our system of allowing a taxi to pick up extra passengers and charging full fares and even the extra rush hour fares and fuel increases may be nice for drivers but totally unfair for passengers.

Your claim that you always know what fare you will be charged is also, I believe, a nice white lie to make your column sound better. Unless you have been the one person in DC that has never been overcharged for a cab which I find hard to believe.

Just try coming from the airport into DC and I have yet to talk to anyone that doesn't find that at least 2/3 of the cabbies will tell you it's a set fare to where you are going instead of following the law and going with a milage fare. It is so bad that I will never take a DC taxi from Reagan airport but only a Virginia taxi with a meter.

People across the nation pay for the distance and time it takes to get someplace in a taxi- it's time that the people of DC do the same.

Posted by: peter | September 12, 2007 10:01 AM

Sorry, but I've never had a problem with a DC cab overcharging me for a trip into Virginia. Yes, in nearly every case the driver just fudges, pulling a number out of his magic fare-determining orifice. The number often varies, but I have yet to see one "suggest" a fare that wasn't reasonable, mostly because the driver can fairly estimate the time/distance traveled and its value to him. No, the problem is intra-District trips that cross two or more zones: the driver has a little hieroglyphics-based map that tells him what he's owed and you dare not argue with that map because it's always right.

The present system greatly favors someone who lives/travels in an area somewhere between Capitol Hill and Dupont Circle and pretty much rips off everyone else.

I'd much prefer a total hack system where you tell the driver where you want to go and he quotes you a price before you leave the curb. Let him factor in variables like the time of day, weather, and known traffic issues. You then decide if it's worth it to you.

Please relieve the DC government of its responsibilities of setting prices for anything.

Posted by: athea | September 12, 2007 10:02 AM

Would the zone meters prevent cabbies from driving outside the zone unnecessarily when they know they have people in the vehicle that have no clue where one zone ends and another begins. The people in favor of zones clearly ride cabs way too much.

Posted by: xtr | September 12, 2007 10:03 AM


I don't know much about public policy, microeconomics, or encouraging people to take taxis, but I know enough about them and basic fairness to tell you that the zone system should go. The sampling of 'cab passengers' for this survey was not a little biased, it was ridiculous to the point of absurdity. There is NO JUSTIFICATION at all for a zone system in which a trip of 10 blocks taking 3 minutes can easily cost more than a trip of 20 blocks and 15 minutes.

How ludicrous is it that thousands of people in this city who want to catch a cab from where they live, work or play know that they can walk a minute across a zone boundary or get dropped off two blocks from their destination and save a big chunk of change? Honestly Marc, why the fondness for this monstrosity of a system so lacking in transparency and your insistence that it actually helps riders from being cheated?

Furthermore, the zone system does not give DC character and uniqueness. Tourists and suburbanites take the missing meters AND the lack of distance/time fees as more evidence that DC conducts its business in the most arcane and clannish of ways. It does not make them want to spend more time here.

Finally, save the attack on Senator Levin. At least he has made the District his home and cares enough to see it improved.

Posted by: David | September 12, 2007 10:10 AM

I have a question about the proposed hybrid meters. Will they measure where the cab actually travels - and then calculate the fare based on the number of zones travelled through? (Option 1) Or will they take the starting and ending points, determine the optimal route - like a GPS or MapQuest-like system - and base the fare on the number of zones crossed by the optimal route? (Option 2)

If the fare is based on the actual route (Option 1), then the proposed system isn't much better than the old one, in that it would allow the driver to manipulate the fare by altering his ( or her) route. If the system is based on Option 2, it will be a definite improvement over the current system.

For what its worth, I have tried using the DC government's web-based "fare calculator" several times ( before taking a taxi ride, and have never been charged what the website says I should be.

Posted by: Whitney Wilson | September 12, 2007 10:16 AM

Did you all fail basic geography? The zone map is not that difficult to read. And when a driver travels through three zones when he only needed to travel through two, I only pay for the two. Sure, some cabbies try to overcharge, but cabbies who charge per mile will often try to take a longer route to ratchet up their fares, too. It took me all of one trip to figure out the zone system in D.C. Quit whining about how you're too dumb to read a map.

Posted by: To the anti-zone fares posters | September 12, 2007 10:17 AM

A meter system is most fair and charges for services used, point to point. Those who choose to take a cab across town during morning rush hour expect delays and so essentially are paying their own 'congestion' tax by running up the meter while the cab stands still in traffic. The addition of fuel surcharges, exta passenger fees, picking up non-related passengers all add up to why the DC cab system is so corrupt and is evidenced by the shear quantity of cabs on the streets, since our market is so lucrative to drivers.

Cabs are for people and are part of the transportation net and regulations should reflect its relevance there and not what is in the best interest of cab drivers.

In all honesty, Marc, I can't fathom where you are coming from on this.

Posted by: Cab Rider | September 12, 2007 10:30 AM

marc is so intellectually dishonest on this issue its sickening. First he claimed to be fighting for the poor mother in anocostia, now he is fighting for the noble self rule. What he doesn't say is that the study showed it would be considerably cheaper for riders to get rid of the zone system, except for long rides. It also stated that for a ride to be long enough for the rider to benefit from a zone system, it generally takes them out of DC, making the zones pointless.

No wonder cab drivers still want zones, but don't care as much how its enforced. They make a killing off the diffrence. Also how does the zogby poll account for tourist, who make up a sizable portion of the taxi use. DC, is the nation's city, not just for DC residents and its time Marc got that through his head.

Posted by: Jon | September 12, 2007 10:32 AM

Charging fare by distance and time is not a revolutionary idea. The WMATA has been doing this for years with Metro. We need some impartiality in place though to make it work for taxis. Sadly, that means relying on a machine to calculate the fare, not individuals. And under no circumstance is a 5 block ride over a zone boundary ever worth the $9.80 (cost during rush hour).

We need the meter! Drivers know the zone system is better for drivers so they advocate for it. Can't fault them for that. I can fault the commission however for basically "punting" on the issue, in their own words by the way.

I don't think Congress has should have a say in ANY local business, but I agree with Levin on this one. Too bad it took Congress sticking their noses in OUR business to force the mayor's hand.

Posted by: Tim | September 12, 2007 10:37 AM

Prediction: Fenty will go to distance meters only and the taxi special interest lobby will demand that meters start at $6.50 and go up from there. The other poster was right - this just proves to visitors just how corrupt government can be especially as they pass their money over the front seat.

Obviously, your comment thread seems to better reflect the sentiments of the people most effected by this issue: taxi riders - in which case it looks like 90% plus favor distance meters.

There is no reason DC can't be like any comparable other city in its use of distance meters based on fair and comparable pricing. Meters are familiar to virtually everyone, whether from DC, NY or Timbuktu.

I think your small town notions are quaint but they don't belong in this so-called 'World Class City.' At least this current set-up proves we're not.

Posted by: DC | September 12, 2007 10:39 AM

It should be obvious to everyone that if the vast majority of cabbies questioned preferred the zone system, that is the biggest profit-maker for them, which translates to the worst for the consumer.

I live three blocks north of a zone line and when I need to take a cab, I walk south of Florida to catch one. Unfortunately, no taxis will pick me up there. They'll drive across the line, park safely in the next zone, then honk and wave me over. Same thing when you try to catch a taxi back from the bars on the House side. Taxis are perfectly happy to pick you up at 3rd Street, but as soon as you walk to 2nd Street (zone line), empty taxis just blow past and refuse to stop.

I just returned from a weekend in NY where we took taxis everywhere because they were so cheap! A trip from Midtown to West Village with four people (no extra passenger charge!) cost less ($6.50) than it would cost me to take a DC cab one block by myself.

Please, Mayor Fenty, switch to the fare system. It's the most fair option for your constituents and the tourists who pour money into this city.

Posted by: Adams Morgan Resident | September 12, 2007 10:47 AM

Easy fix: Get the illegals to pull rickshaws.

Posted by: Big Daddy | September 12, 2007 10:48 AM

Marc - I read you constantly and have never once added my thoughts onto your blog... but this column really got to me, particularly the following statement:
"Zone meters--if they work--would eliminate just about everything that's troublesome about the zone system, while keeping its advantages." I am honestly flumoxed that you would write this. Zone meters would introduce accountability into the mix but would do nothing to correct the fundamental unfairness/stupidity that comes with basing fares on arbitrary geographic boundaries. I walk to work but on rainy or rushed days when I need a taxi to go the ten blocks it is $12! That is simply undefendable. This ridiculous and unfair arrangement also rightfully positions DC for even more ridicule from visitors who are used to simple, common-sense taxi fares. I am a fan of yours and like your work but for the life of me cant figure where your head is on this.

Posted by: A fan | September 12, 2007 10:51 AM

Its no surprise the cabbies don't want to change the system because they don't want to spend money to buy a meter. The typical cab in Washington is a wreck. A 20 year old Crown Vic with no A.C. and duct tape holding the seats together,etc. A few years ago when the city mandated cabs install a security device, almost all chose the silly "Call Police" light on the roof because it was the cheapest.

Posted by: frustrated | September 12, 2007 10:56 AM

DC has always been one of the most corrupt major cities in the world. You want to know why the US can't allow complete home rule, because the people who run the city can't be trusted with the Nations Capital. DC elected a crack addict BACK to its city council.

The cab drivers are the only people more corrupt then the politicians. Leaving this issue up to Fenty to decide is a mistake. Congress needs to protect all the citizens of the US from these scam artists. DC needs more congressional control, not less.

Posted by: Jon | September 12, 2007 11:05 AM

I agree that the light issue needs to be addressed. It makes absolutely no sense to have the light on when the cab has passengers and the light off when it's trolling for them.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 12, 2007 11:05 AM

All you have to do is compare the DC cab experience with the NYC cab experience.

You can catch a cab easily in NYC, even in residential-only areas. The cabs are clean, new, and in good shape. And you can go a long distance for $6 to $8.

In DC it's very hard to catch cabs off the main tourist or nightclub / office strips. The cabs are often decrepit, with drivers that don't speak English and don't know their way around. And the fare is oftenover $10 for just a few short blocks.

Move to meters.

Then require real cab requirements, like no cars over 5 years old, real inspections, etc.

Posted by: Hillman | September 12, 2007 11:24 AM

This city needs to accept that is has a large transient population (students, tourists, business people, Congress). Therefore, it needs a simple system that someone who has not lived here for 30 years can understand. Distance meters are exactly that. You go x miles, you pay x. EVERY OTHER CIVILIZED CITY on the planet has figured this out. But no, DC has to leave room for the locals to ripoff the nonlocals.

Oh, and easy movement in and out of the cab business is actually not a good thing. There is more room for ripoffs, poor service, etc. Getting a cab in this city is next to impossible by standing on the street. Calling for one to pick you up -- again unlike every other civilized city -- is impossible.

Posted by: ep | September 12, 2007 11:29 AM

Why should I have to read a map to figure out how much it will cost me to take a cab? Every other major city in the US has a metered system, figures DC has to be different and utterly confusing.

Posted by: Preston | September 12, 2007 11:40 AM

The zone meter sounds like an interesting idea, but there are some problems with it. I assume it will work via some sort of GPS system. GPS access isn't foolproof. One of my cars has a built-in GPS navigation system and sometimes it has trouble locking onto the satellite, especially if there's an electrical storm or sometimes in the afternoon when I come out of my office garage (occasionally the car icon goes off in the wrong direction until it locks onto the satellite). Presumably the latter issue wouldn't likely happen much with the cabs, but the larger issue of what happens when there are GPS-access problems would remain. Trust the cabbie to get it right? Not likely!

The theory behind the zone meter is that it would realize what Marc Fisher's post says--you would pay the same fare for the same ride every time. That's a decent theory to have. On the other hand, the people who note that the passenger should have to pay for the fuel wasted by being stuck in traffic have a good point too. It makes me think of something that nobody else has mentioned--right now, there's a surcharge for the fuel, which makes sense if any trip downtown is theoretically supposed to cost the same. A system that uses a time/distance meter should account for the fuel cost in the fare, and thus the surcharge should be repealed. Betcha it wouldn't be repealed, though!

Posted by: Rich | September 12, 2007 11:43 AM

I have to vote for meters like those used in other major cities and in the adjoining jurisdictions. Following recent surgery I had to commute by taxi between Crystal City and the Commerce Department on 14th Street. I always knew what the fare would be when I got into the cab in Crystal City. I never knew what the licensed highway robbers would demand when I got in a DC cab outside Commerce. I was charged from $9.85 to $15.00 for the same trip. With the door locks controlled by the driver, I didn't have much negotiating space. I finally got an honest driver one afternoon who really used his odometer and fare chart, and I learned that the correct fare was the same as in the metered cab in the morning. I paid just that amount thereafter. If a driver demanded more, I asked if the fares had gone up overnight. If he persisted, I pulled out a notepad and started to take down his number. Then he gave up and accepted what all others were happy to get. I see no reason to keep the antiquated zone system that was created by Congress years ago. (And it's about time Congress got it changed to put DC cabs on an operating par with other great cities around the world.)

Posted by: Walter | September 12, 2007 11:46 AM

I can't believe that so many people voted to keep the current system. People really think that's fair as compared to time/distance? Seriously, the current system is ridiculous, go to meters.

Posted by: G-town | September 12, 2007 12:14 PM

"I have a question about the proposed hybrid meters. Will they measure where the cab actually travels - and then calculate the fare based on the number of zones travelled through? (Option 1) Or will they take the starting and ending points, determine the optimal route - like a GPS or MapQuest-like system - and base the fare on the number of zones crossed by the optimal route? (Option 2)"

Option 2, with optimal being defined as "fewest number of zones," not "shortest distance." Technically, this is how the system is supposed to work now, but it seems a lot of Raw Fisher readers don't know that, and a lot of their drivers either don't know or like to pretend like they don't.

Me, I like zones. They take a little more thinking, but they work perfectly well if you're not afraid of that. Unlike a lot of people here, I almost never have anyone try to cheat me, though that may be because the scammers recognize someone who's confident in their grasp of the system, just like NYC taxi drivers somehow only take tourists from Iowa, not the locals, from JFK to Wall Street via the Cross-Bronx Expressway.

(I don't take taxis outside of the District, though -- Metro, Flexcar or airport shuttle only -- but that's a WMATC issue, not a zone issue.)

Posted by: otherquaker | September 12, 2007 1:09 PM

My experience is that 95% of DC cab drivers are more than happy to rip off locals and tourists alike. I work on 15th Street between H and New York Ave. I had a meeting on G between 12th and 13th. Normally I would walk which takes about 5 to 10 minutes. Unfortunately, I just had foot surgery and needed to take a cab. The cost for myself and one co-worker . . . $11. How in the world is this fair???

Move to a metered system. If nothing else, it will solve the perception of corruption that shrouds DC by everyone looking in.

Posted by: LegalAce | September 12, 2007 1:20 PM

First of all, the number of zones you travel THROUGH is insignificant. It clearly states (or at least used to) on the dc taxi website run by the gov't that fares are computed only based on where the trip starts and ends, nothing in between. So if you start at the white house, drive to anacostia, catholic U, tenleytown, and then to DuPont, it's still just one zone. That's where the zone system heavily favors people unfamiliar with the area over the time/dist meter. A cab could give you a three hour tour of the city and drive you a block up the street and you'd owe him a ton of cash with a time/dist meter, but with zones you still only owe him $6.50.

Posted by: mikem | September 12, 2007 2:38 PM

When I read most the comments on this article, I still see big corparation money at work to steal the first and last free enterprise system in America.

I know for a fact and most of You don't know both study's on the DC Taxicab System was flawed.

If this city want to get rid of this historcal taxicab zone system,to make slaves again out of black folk and our new immagrent community, I dare you all to hold a Community Meeting at a place downtown on a day and time that's coveant for the real voice's of Washington DC residents to be heard on this issue.

Peace and Love from a 40 year DC Hacker.>Billy Ray Edwards

Posted by: Billy Ray Edwards | September 12, 2007 2:41 PM

Its the idiotic (and false ) cry of racism in DC. Maybe if the city actually tried to fix things instead of blaming the white man for all its problems, this city wouldn't be the disaster it currently is. Cut out the Marion Barry, White folks are evil crap.

Does every other city make slaves out of the blacks and minorities by having a real taxi system? Obviously not. I've read Billy pointless historical rants before about how taxis were the only job for minorities. Regardless of whether that is true or not then, its not anymore. Having a system where cab drivers have to follow the laws, pay taxes on their wages, and not rip people off is both realistic and fair.

Posted by: Jon | September 12, 2007 3:05 PM

I took a cab once in DC. I was new to the city and wasn't quite sure where I was going. The cab took my date and I half a block around the corner, dropped us off and charge us 15 dollars since it was rush hour, extra people, crossed a zone, etc.

Lesson learned. I don't take cabs in DC. I'll save my cab rides for real cities.

Posted by: Me | September 12, 2007 4:27 PM

Uh...mikem - I would think any cab driver with half a brain would consider a trip from the "white house, drive to anacostia, catholic U, tenleytown, and then to DuPont" as multiple trips within the same zone. Your $6.50 fair just shot up to $26.00.

If a cab will give me a 3 hour tour of the city for $6.50 I will happily cancel my limo contract.

Posted by: DC | September 12, 2007 4:43 PM

so wait i'm supposed to believe that the overwhelming majority of taxi drivers support the status quo because it is cheaper for PASSENGERS? Is that a real argument? That the majority of favor changes that would reduce their incomes and ability to invent a new fare every time they drive me between the same two places? The system is a travesty.

Posted by: zartan | September 12, 2007 5:36 PM

To the person who thinks there is no connection between the cab committee and home rule, here it is. Everything that the DC government touches is inherently corrupt. There schools per dollar spent are some of the worst in the nation. The streets are awful. I can't think of one thing that the DC gov has done successfully.

DC is the nations capital, not just a city that locals have to deal with. The elected officials are some of the most corrupt people in the country, and thats saying something given the state of congress. DC, and its government are a mess. It was not designed to have home rule and it should not be granted. Congress needs to take back over the government, and give the country a capital city thats not an embarrassment to the world.

Posted by: Jon | September 12, 2007 6:16 PM

"Chief reason for opposing meters: Under the zone system, you always know what the fare will be when you get in the cab."

This is a lie. You have no idea what the driver is going to feel like charging you. Sure, you can argue, but who wants that hassle? I had a driver threaten to call the cops because I wouldn't pay him a quoted fare that was 7 dollars higher than the same ride the month before cost. The only avenue is to complain to a taxi commission that doesn't care. Keep the zones if you want, but there HAS to be some kind of meter system to keep these guys honest.

Posted by: ChrisH | September 12, 2007 6:30 PM

I have had drivers drive the wrong way down one-way streets; charge me for my luggage although the driver never even offered me a hand with it; refuse to take me to my destination; violate the city's cell phone ban by speaking on the phone during the entire ride; and they are generally not available where or when I need them. No matter how much you try to read the obscured map in the car, you still end up with no idea how much the ride should cost unless you mapquest it beforehand--which somewhat defeats the purpose of taking a cab because it is easier. The major lesson learned: don't take cabs in DC. I go to great lengths to avoid ever needing one. DC will never be the world-class city it can be unless it fixes the cab system and its other transportation issues.

Posted by: cabavoider | September 16, 2007 2:03 PM

It would be easy for to check what the only bussiness black folks was allowed own in America,before the civil war is in some old black church records.

When it come to slaves in a taxi system you don't have to look too far,try MD and VA were a corparation or indiviuals own all the taxicabs and 80% of all taxicabs in DC are own by individuals.

I do agree with Jon,on a few thing's that the DC Government and Taxicab Commission is corupt to the bone when come down to this industry just to name a few.

(1)Insurance,not allowing under Public Law 85-792 owner/operators to come togather as a collective to insure themselves inorder to put better equipment on the road and be a fair conpatitor.

(2) Selling of face cards and allowing the hackers test to be compromised by folks that can't compute a fare or Speak English. To top this off in the push for time and Distance meters in the last three months the DC Taxicab Commission issured more than 1500 limo permits that can get L Tags to hack hotels in the city.

(3} DC government as the Regulating body of the taxi industry is not educating the rideing public with some of the accessment tax thats been collected from all drivers that have not been audited in years ask for a recipt and make sure propper ID,Name and Taxicab Number on it, instead of advocating for a zone meter that the DC government have no control over it's accucy or software.

I hope Jon,ask at what point did this system become a problem and then he might understand there are some of us that care and want to keep this an open system.

Posted by: Billy Ray Edwards | September 16, 2007 4:33 PM

From: The Progaessive Review on DC Taxicabs.>>Billy Ray




[Once again the city seems ready to install meters in DC's cabs which will bring to an end a system that has long provided residents with more cabs per capita than any other American city, reasonable rates, and a rare opportunity for upward mobility. This is from 1994 article your editor wrote for City Paper]

The city government appears close to requiring meters for the DC's 8000 cabs, a move that would severely hobble, if not destroy, the taxi industry as a major tool of local upward mobility.

DC now has more cabs per capita than any other city in America. If all of DC's cabs were owned by one company, the firm would be the city's largest private employer. The industry serves as a remarkably efficient example of what is known as para-transit, that is to say a form of moving people about more public than a car, but less so than, say, a bus.

Yet this could change quickly once meters are installed. The reason is that meters would, for the first time, allow the entry of major corporations into the local taxi business. Without meters, only the drivers know for sure how much they are earning. With meters, corporations can easily keep accurate track of revenue. For the first time in our city's history, our cab industry will become attractive to big business.

These corporations, if they follow the pattern, will seek not the free marketplace but rather the collaboration of the government in a massive restraint of trade. In the taxi industry this has been traditionally done through some sort of cap on the number of cabs. For example, a study by the Department of Justice found that 87 percent of some 100 cities with taxi service restricted entry in some way. Chip Mellor of the Institute for Justice has noted that Denver routinely turned down every application for a new taxicab company from 1947 on. Chicago and LA are closed. Boston's permit costs $60,000 and New York's $140,000.

A similar trend could be expected in DC as large -- and perhaps out-of-town -- corporations move to take advantage of taxi-metering. The impact on the industry could be phenomenal. If DC had proportionally as many cabs as Paris or London, our fleet would drop more than 90%. While DC has one cab for every 75 citizens, New York City has only one for every 600.

There is almost an iron law of non-competition in the taxi industry. It dates back at least to 1636, when the owners of Thames water taxis got King Charles I to restrict the number of horse-drawn hacks to 50 in order to cut down on the land-borne competition. And it is as recent at 1962, when Chicago Mayor Richard Daley guaranteed 80% of any new cab permits to one of his buddies.

With meters, not only would the ease with which one can hail a DC cab likely disappear, so would a remarkable tradition of individual entrepreneurship -- particularly for minorities -- that the city has enjoyed almost from its beginning. My wife, local historian Kathryn Schneider Smith, found in studying the estate records of DC free blacks in the early 19th century that typically the most successful trade was that of a hack driver. Among the reasons: ownership of one's means of livelihood, a business relationship with the white community, and relief from some of the black codes -- the city's apartheid-type rules that among other things set a curfew on blacks.

Again, when blacks moved into the city in large numbers in the 1950s, it became common to find cabs providing a first or second job for new arrivals trying to gain a foothold on the economic ladder. The cab in front of a black-owned home then was a symbol of the taxi's importance in giving economic substance to the promise of civil rights.

Today, the story is being repeated, only this time the beneficiaries are more often immigrants speaking an awkward dialect, a group without a movement, without a Martin Luther King Jr., and towards which hostility is increasingly sanctioned. The question of cab service has become inexorably intertwined with attitudes towards immigration and with the ethnic economic triage under which the last to come to town lose.

Although anti-immigrant prejudice is seldom explicit, its offspring crop up constantly in discussion of cab service -- concern over lack of knowledge of the city or cheating or "cleanliness." Since there is no evidence that DC cabs are any dirtier than those elsewhere, the question of cleanliness seems to suggest that something else is really being discussed here. One senses when reading Post complaints on this matter that it presumes if cabs were driven by a better class of employees under the control of proper members of the Board of Trade and Federal City Council, everything would be, for some reason, neater.

Likewise, there is an assumption that with meters, fare cheating would decline. Again the evidence is lacking. In fact, if there is one universal of the global cab industry it is that cabdrivers cheat, reflecting little more than that cabbies tend to be extraordinarily knowledgeable natives who do a lot of business with extraordinary ignorant visitors. A study by US News & World Report this year found, in fact, that DC was no worse than most of the major cities it looked at. While the USN&WR study found overcharges of about 5 bucks on an DC airport run, it also reported that in New York one should ask a taxi dispatcher for the best route to your destination: "A driver who takes the Belt Parkway from JFK to midtown, for example, can add $20 to a $25 to $30 fare." The reporters were overcharged $5 bucks for a similar run in Chicago, cheated by limo drivers in San Francisco, reported occasional $20 overcharges in Boston, and so forth. Even the DC cab commission's own study found that passengers were overcharged only 17% of the time, while being undercharged 10% of the time. This in a city where you need to be conned by a factor of 50% to equal cab rates in many other places.

The metering of cabs would, admittedly, be loyal to at least one local tradition: more than three decades of abysmally poor decisions by local leaders concerning public transit. It began with the destruction of one of the country's finest light-rail systems in the 1960s, which was followed shortly a disastrous web of freeways mercifully truncated by citizen opposition. The area then conned the federal government into helping it build a subway system by telling it would have twice as many riders as was eventually the fact. Whatever advantage DC might have gained from the subway was soon lost as Metro dispersed development once centered downtown and provided easier city access for non-taxpaying suburban day-trippers. . .

While the gutting of the taxi industry would certainly fit this pattern, it is in no way necessary. In fact, DC is bucking an international trend towards taxi deregulation in order to improve service and reduce costs.

One of the most dramatic examples occurred this summer in Indianapolis when the city eliminated the cap on taxi licenses, set only a maximum -- but no minimum fares -- and invited businesses to start jitney service at whatever rates they wished.

In four months, the number of cab companies has doubled, fares have dropped 7% and cab drivers have even started wearing ties. Further, there has not been a single taxi-related complaint. Says mayoral special assistant Tom Rose, who spearheaded the plan, it's been a "really dramatic, dramatic improvement.". . .

There are improvements that could be made easily to the DC taxi system to improve the lot of both the driver and the rider. For the former, splitting Zone 1 into two would mean an immediate leap in income for cabbies, much of it from government workers, journalists and tourists. For the latter, a flat airport-to-downtown fare (used in a number of cities) would eliminate many of the cheating complaints.

But in the politics of DC, such common sense solutions carry little weight. Like a kid with a watch, the temptation for our leaders is just too great. Even if it works, you got to take it apart.



Posted by: Billy Ray Edwards | September 16, 2007 6:00 PM

It's was past time to go to meters. Just about every city on the planet has cabs with meters. Why is DC so special?

Why are we STILL talking about this? It's been years now. Somebody make a decision already.

Posted by: njals | September 17, 2007 11:21 AM

How much is a cab going from the washington post to 6&E SE, you leave at 3:58 on a monday. There are two passengers and you have one bag. Quick, how much is it?

Hmmm...didn't think you knew.

Posted by: Jackson123 | September 17, 2007 12:50 PM

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