Taxi Wars: Zones & Meters--The Final Battle?
When the D.C. Taxi Commission meets Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., its members will yet again sift through the age-old arguments about zones vs. meters, and, following the command of a meddling U.S. senator from Michigan, vote on whether to scrap a system that has served Washington well for the better part of a century.
In no other U.S. city even remotely close to this size is it routinely possible to hail a cab on any downtown street and even in many residential neighborhoods. There's a reason for that: We have many, many more cabs on the streets than most other cities in this size range. That tells us that the economics of the taxi system are working reasonably well, especially since, unlike most cities, Washington's taxi industry is dominated by individual operators who own their own cabs--not by large fleets that work with city officials to artificially set the supply of taxis.
So why the constant agitation for replacing our zone fare system with a meter for pricing? Obviously, big companies that want to enter and take over this market would love to have meters, which make it far easier for fleet owners to monitor use of their vehicles.
So we're seeing quite a campaign for the taxi commission to do what it has repeatedly refused to do--scrap a system that works.
Sadly, the current taxi commission seems to be bending under pressure from Congress and other powerful interests. The commission's chairman set this week's vote after he scrapped a hearing that would have provided the only opportunity for public comment. And he confiscated from his own colleagues on the commission all copies of a survey that apparently shows widespread public support for keeping some form of the zone system.
The Post's reporting indicates that commission members are leaning toward a compromise in which the zone structure would be retained but meters would be added to cabs to let passengers know through a satellite mapping system exactly how many zones they have traveled through. If those GPS meters actually work, that sounds like a reasonable compromise, maintaining the fairness and simplicity of the zone system while delivering new confidence to tourists and others unfamiliar with the zone boundaries.
But the commission's process in this rush to judgment has been shoddy and secretive. No major change in the way the taxi system operates should be permitted until and unless the public gets a chance to speak out in an open setting and until the community is given a shot at examining the results of the commission's surveys and other work.
By Marc Fisher |
September 10, 2007; 1:20 PM ET
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