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Taxi Tea Leaves: Will Fenty Save Zones?

Seems yesterday's stunt was just that. The mayor caved to the big boys of the taxi industry, and to the riders who simply cannot stand the zone system. Fenty is portraying the move to meters as the people's choice, but his own administration's poll of riders found exactly the opposite--while a majority of riders aren't terribly happy with D.C. cab service, fully 61 percent of passengers polled said they wanted either to keep the current system or try the GPS-driven zone meters that were proposed as a compromise.
Instead, we'll get mileage meters, a system that's perfectly fair to riders but will undermine the economic foundation of the D.C. system. Get ready for a decline in the city's driver-owned cab culture and a move toward large fleets, which will in turn lead to a dramatic drop in the number of cabs on the streets, more reliance on radio-controlled cabs rather than street hailing, and, inevitably, higher fares.

NOW, back to yesterday's overly optimistic posting:

We're less than 24 hours away from Mayor Adrian Fenty's Wednesday announcement on whether he will scrap the city's taxi zone system, yielding to the District's overseers on Capitol Hill and adopting mileage-based meters; keep the system that guarantees Washington more cab service than any other similarly-sized city in the nation; or go with a compromise that retains the current structure but uses zone-measuring meters to add confidence for tourists and other riders who don't get the zone system.

For those who can't wait to see what Fenty decides, here's a clue. On the news release announcing Fenty's schedule for today, we find this item:

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty
Public Schedule*
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
10:30 am**
School Heating Facilities Press Conference
H.D. Woodson Senior High School, Plaza
5500 Eads Street, NE
** A day before Mayor Fenty is set to announce his decision on the future of the city's taxi zone system, he will arrive at this event following a test ride in a zone-metered cab**

Now, I'm no clairvoyant, but when a politician stages a stunt like that, he isn't conducting research--he's sending a message.

If that's true, then Fenty will have made the move that serves all interests: Adopting the zone meters puts the D.C. taxi system at the forefront of the industry, using GPS technology to assure that riders don't get cheated. It saves the basic architecture of a fare system that has served the city well for seven decades, keeping big fleet owners out of the city and making certain that cabs will remain an engine of entrepreneurship and social mobility in the region. It continues a weighted fare system that will allow the city's economically strapped residents to continue using cabs for routine neighborhood errands, while making the wealthier folks who commute by taxi pay high enough fares to give cabbies a decent income. It keeps the central business district to a single, flat-fare zone, encouraging a strong, large fleet of taxis available to all who wish to hail a cab. And all of that helps keep the car ownership levels in this city (the second-lowest of any major city in the nation) way down--a boost for our air quality and a saving grace for those who rely on curbside parking. Despite the crankiness of some riders--and I've been part of that from time to time--the cab system in Washington is a jewel, an amenity that no other city of this size supports.

Of course, it could be that Fenty has something else in mind. But then, why would he be stunting with a zone meter today?

By Marc Fisher |  October 16, 2007; 11:37 AM ET
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So much BS from you, Fisher. We have too many cabs as it is. The zone GPS systemn will just allow the cabbies to continue ripping off customers, and driving around in dilapidated junkers. The cab system in DC a jewel? Are you on crack? This is the worst cab system of ANY major city. Thanks to you and Fenty, if he goes along with this scam, cab service in DC will continue to SUCK.

Posted by: C-dog | October 16, 2007 11:51 AM

Today's Post story gets it right; Marc gets it wrong.

The riding public wants meters. We are tired of arguing with cabbies who are either incorrect or dishonest, tired of guessing what we'll be charged for a ride downtown or to the airport.

I am not a fan of the zone system, as I live close to a zone boundary that boosts my fare for even short rides.

But accepting the argument that the current zone arrangement benefits riders and protects poor people, there is no -- i repeat no -- justification for cabbies' opposing GPS zone-based meters other than preservation of their right to rip people off.

The time for meters has come, and there is no legitimate basis for resisting them.

Posted by: Meridian | October 16, 2007 11:59 AM

I have to disagree on this one. Other cities aren't clamoring for the zone system because its the wrong system. Not all trips are long. Some are short to medium in distance. The zone system has us (non-ward 2 residents) paying up to $9 for a trip that could be dollars less. The wealthy riders will still subsidize the drivers with their long, more expensive trips.

And I don;t think either outcome will force carless residents to buy a vehicle.

Posted by: Tim | October 16, 2007 12:00 PM

"Despite the crankiness of some riders--and I've been part of that from time to time--the cab system in Washington is a jewel, an amenity that no other city of this size supports."

What a joke. This is maybe one of the dumbest comments you have ever written Marc. You know what other amenity no city supports? Horse and buggies on the streets. But frankly, I wouldn't be surprised to hear you come out in favor of that since cars are "annoying" and horses are a throwback to yesteryear and certainly we would be the only city in the country like that.

Even in the Post front page this morning ("Cab Riders Eager For Change"), 81% of rider rate the system fair to poor. Wake up Marc and wake up Mayor Fenty. Its time for a real change. The GPS/Zone Meter will just allow for drivers to flip back and forth over the lines to get you to pay more.

Constantly getting ripped off is not a jewel. Having a different fare on every ride is not a jewel. DC is the only city in the country that insists on hanging on to this archaic way of cab fares.

Marc talks ALL THE TIME in his chats about how great the fare system is and how once you get to know the system, you will (as he does) just get out of the cab a few blocks early to avoid paying the extra zone money. Are you freaking kidding me? Thats the whole POINT OF TAKING A CAB. Why should I constantly be changing my routine to avoid getting ripped off?

Here's what I want to do. I want to get in a cab, tell the guy the destination, and see my fare on the meter. Thats how every other city in the country operates.

Its time for a change.

Posted by: DCM | October 16, 2007 12:02 PM

DC cabs with their stupid zone fares, broken down beat up, dirty, smelly vehicles with nasty stupid drivers are a laughing-stock and should be done away with as they are now. I always tell people not to use them and I certainly refuse to do so. The only reason I can see to keep them around is that if we got rid of them, then Marc Fisher would move to the top of the list as the worst thing in Washington.

Posted by: Just say no to DC cabs | October 16, 2007 12:04 PM

Marc: Are you kidding me? Your talking points are right out of the taxi drivers assosciation.

We have the WORST taxis of any city I have been to -- we overpay a lot of the time because no one I know has any idea where the zones start and stop; the cabs are dirty -- many are ones that no longer pass the NYC taxi standards; and a goood number of the drivers are surly.

Sorry, but a meter system is just the first step at reforming a taxi system that is in dire need of overhaul.

Posted by: Jim R. | October 16, 2007 12:08 PM

I reject the notion that a move to meters will reduce the number of cabs in the city. Where is the research saying this come from? Oh yeah, from the cabbie association itself. Yeah, there's an objective analysis. *roll eyes*

The mayor should make the right decision and move to meters. If not for the benefit of residents and tourists who use the cabs, then for the city's coffers because its more than obvious that there is seriously tax evasion going on using the zone system.

Posted by: corbett | October 16, 2007 12:13 PM

Zone Meters that track where the car drives and spits out your fare based on route are garbage. Too easy to take a route that dips in and out of zones. The driver can point to the meter and say "It's not me, it's the computer". A system that would be BETTER than meters would be a zone-meter system that takes starting and stopping points and computes the fare FIRST. No slick driving tricks.

Posted by: DC | October 16, 2007 12:15 PM

DC, I believe that's how it's supposed to work. If you look at the current full zone map it has a grid below that shows the number of zones to be charged based on starting zone and ending zone. According to that it's not dependent on what zones are traveled through, but only on the zones where you begin and end.

Posted by: Rich | October 16, 2007 12:19 PM

I love the zone system. I don't get taken advantage of by taxi drivers, but maybe that's because I:

a) Have a capable enough brain to memorize a few key street names/locations in the city I've lived in all of my adult life and make some rational choices based on that information

b) don't look like a suburban mook who doesn't know anything about the city where they pretend to live

The system just isn't as hard to use as some people like to pretend, and it keeps many rides that would be $12-$16 in NYC at $9-$11.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2007 12:20 PM

well, good for you, 12:20. unfortunately many people who utilize the DC cab system DO look like suburban mooks (myself included, i can only imagine), and that should not subject us to the screaming fights that result when drivers insist our "capable brains" are wrong and demand inflated fares. some people pay the higher fare just to avoid lengthy arguments with intimidating cab drivers, and others are not confident enough in their knowledge of the system to fight the driver. meters are the *only* way to make this process fair, no matter where one is from or what one "looks" like. your reasons for keeping the zone system are absurd. i hope that someone in fenty's office is keeping track of these comments.

Posted by: dc voter | October 16, 2007 12:24 PM

Marc, I have to say that on this issue you have succumbed to the rhetoric of the DC cabbies and taken a position contrary to the public interest. Your slippery slope argument that meters are the first step toward big fleet owners pushing all our cabbies out of business is a classic reductio ad absurdum. Your illogical views on this issue betray some personal stake that I cannot imagine is rational - I think you have taken your side for too long to reverse it (even if changing your mind would be in the public interest).

That said, it seems imminent that Fenty will opt for zone meters. This is certainly not the best choice for riders, but at least it is better than the current system of virtual anarchy.

Posted by: Bloomingdale, DC | October 16, 2007 12:24 PM

"the cab system in Washington is a jewel"

Since when? I hate the zone system and think it should be scrapped in favor of meters. I'm never guaranteed the same fare twice. The whole system should be overhauled beginning with the addition of meters.

Posted by: cab91 | October 16, 2007 12:24 PM

This is a typically unsupported by fact Fisher column. Ah the benefits of writing when you don't have to deal with facts.

The zone system is outdated and rediculous. Let's really come into the 21st Century and not use a GPS system to keep us in the 19th century. As to fares try going from 18th and Q to the Hilton Washington with two people at 6:00pm any day. A five minute ride even in busy traffic. Two zones-extra passenger-rush hour add-on-gas price add-on and the fare is $12.30 without a tip.

Try coming into DC from national airport and make the same trip five times and get charged five different fares. Ask the driver for his starting and ending milage and if he understands the question he gets offended. This is a trip charged by milage. I know of no business traveler who doesn't try to get a Virginia metered cab to make the trip. Tourists routinely get ripped off.

It's time to move forward let's get real.
How anyone can say this current system makes sense is absurd. Let people pay for time and distance like in every major city in the nation.

Posted by: peter dc | October 16, 2007 12:29 PM

Why would time/distance meters result in the elimination of independent cabbies but not zone meters?

As I understand the (weak) argument, meters allow a company to monitor cabbies, which means companies will be interested in having a taxi company. And these companies will put independents out of business (presumably because they're more efficient, which is a good thing).

But why doesn't the same thing happen with zone meters? Companies will be able to monitor them as well.

Zone meters are the *worst* result--add the expense of meters but stick with a lousy, unfair, inefficient zone system.

Posted by: ah | October 16, 2007 12:31 PM

how much did you get paid to write that. Its idiotic moves like this from the "government" of DC that disuade congress for giving them real self rule. The people, rich and poor get screwed by not having real meters. Also your comment about helping the poor just is not true. The study shows that the majority of people want to scrab the zones altogether and go to a meter. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by: Jon | October 16, 2007 12:32 PM

"...the cab system in Washington is a jewel, an amenity that no other city of this size supports."

Are you out of your cotton picking mind?!?! A jewel and an amenity? I have been cheated by and argued with so many cab drivers in this city that I view our system as a curse. Give me a meter cab any day of the week! And by the way, since when did those of us who take shorter rides suddenly become rich people who have to subsidize everyone else in DC? Don't do me any more favors!

Posted by: Disgruntled | October 16, 2007 12:33 PM

You have GOT to be kidding me. Marc got it WAY wrong. The Post article got it right.

Mayor Fenty, please give us meters!

Posted by: G-town | October 16, 2007 12:38 PM

The zone system is simply awful.

Personally, I would be much more likely to take a cab if I didn't have to haggle each and everytime.

Mr. Fischer, I still can't believe the Post actually publishes your drivel.

Posted by: Kenneth | October 16, 2007 12:40 PM

well, the stupidity of this column and the fear inspired by the promise of fenty going to the absurd zone-meter hybrid just sent me to the Internet to fire off a letter to Fenty to please please please do not cave to the cab lobby and give us regular meters like every other civilized urban existence on earth. I suggest the rest of the passionate folks here do the same. Easy to do and takes as much time as submitting a comment to Marc, who is luckily not the decisionmaker in this process.

Posted by: thanks marc | October 16, 2007 12:45 PM

I like the zone system. I look at the fare finder on the taxicab commission's Web site, and know exactly how much my fare is going to be. I ride about 8 times a week,and with few exceptions, have found cabbies to be polite and helpful. Perhaps that's because I respect them and treat them like fellow humans. I am not expecting to be cheated, like some of you seem to be. I want those independent cabs in the city, not a monopoly company, and I want as many as the market will bear. You certainly are a surly bunch! Why not be a little concerned that a senator from Michigan can tell us how to run our city!

Posted by: Van Ness | October 16, 2007 12:47 PM


Is the Post hiring, because if it is, I'd like to apply for your job. My qualifications are: (a) I don't know very much, and (b) I'm not too bright. Seriously, Marc, how do you come up with this garbage? What should count in our taxi system is not whether it is a good jobs program, but rather whether customers receive good taxi service. It's clear that taxi service in this city lags in quality when compared to other cities (if you can't see this, maybe you need some new glasses). We need clean, safe, comfortable taxis, and a transparent billing system. The current system, run, as it is, by the taxi mafia, provides neither and should be scrapped tout de suite. If they will give us clean, safe, decent cabs and honest, transparent billing, then I say bring on the meters and the big companies (I've never had a bad experience with Barlow).

Posted by: WaPo's next Metro blogger/columnist | October 16, 2007 12:49 PM

Surly? I expect to be cheated because I've been cheated more than once. I am glad you have not had the same experience. Still, I am less concerned with the momentum coming from Michigan than I am with some basic consumer protection. Please to not assume that your clean history with DC cabs is the norm.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2007 12:52 PM

How many DC cabbies pay you to spout this kind of consistent pro-zone propaganda on the "jewel" of a taxi system?

Posted by: Arlington | October 16, 2007 12:56 PM

What are you smoking today?

Posted by: FLvet | October 16, 2007 1:01 PM

Let's not forget that cabs can pick up other people, drop them off, then take you to your destination. And still charge you FULL FARE!

DC cabs are the worst in the world. I'd rather walk in the dark and risk getting mugged than hail a cab here.

Posted by: POC | October 16, 2007 1:02 PM

Everyone who wants to sit downtown or on the 14th Street Bridge in traffic and watch a meter tick away, I'm happy for you. While it can be unreliable, the zone system at least doesn't do that. And it seems to me that the opportunity for cheating will be greatly reduced by the compromise zone meter. You'll get an accurate receipt, one that you won't have to fudge if you turn it in at the office. Will drivers still be able to take people over the river and through the woods? Sure. But IMHO, I don't know if that sort of overcharging is the biggest problem. From what I have heard and observed, it is not.

Now if I could just get a cattle prod to keep drivers away from my luggage as they try to pad their fare.....

Posted by: Bob | October 16, 2007 1:07 PM

And this new zone meter will ensure that cabbies don't take a "shortcut" to a different zone to get additional fare. I mean how many people really know where the boundaries end. Hell, there aren't even signs that welcome you to the District when you enter the city at most major entrances.

Posted by: xtr657 | October 16, 2007 1:09 PM

On the DC taxicab comission's website, there is a fare calculator that anyone can use to find out how much their fare should be.

Before getting into the cab, confirm the fare with the driver. If he gives you the wrong fare, shut the door and flag another cab down.

If you can use the Internet to post to this discussion, you can use the fare calculator to be an educated consumer.

Posted by: dccanuck | October 16, 2007 1:09 PM

Anyone who things cabs in NYC are more expensive than in DC obviously has never lived in BOTH cities. You can travel 50 city blocks in NY (I do it everyday) for $11, you couldn't come close to that coverage in DC. To be fair, it isn't just the cabs but the way the traffic lights are operated as well. The meter system is much more efficient, and Fisher you're crazy if you think people enjoy the DC-zone system. Here and Boston (way overpriced) are the worst cabs systems of major metro areas in the country.

Posted by: JShipp | October 16, 2007 1:15 PM

I like how this question about fare systems got twisted into an argument that a zone system helps the poor. Lol. For real?

Wow, how the poor of other major US cities must suffer! Why can't their governments give them the hand out of a zone system?

Don't be ridiculous. We have such a 'jewel' of a taxi system here because our 'jewel' of a public transportation system is so often ineffective. Changing to fares won't change the number of people interested in taking cabs negatively, in fact an argument could be made that cleaning up the system will only make cabs more appealing. So, now how are you helping the poor Cabbies?

3 simple things to remember.

1. Supply and demand: We will have enough taxis to support the demand for them.

2. Competition is good: so what if big fleets come into the city? I've been in some NASTY cabs here that I wouldn't mind seeing disappear. People will still be hired to drive those cabs from big fleets, the jobs are still there.

3. The customer is always right: Look at the number of posts here. I count 1 in support of zones. I count 2 if you include the absurd post by Marc. Frankly it shouldn't even be up for discussion, the customer is right.

How typically lame of DC to have to address this situation because of a federal lawmaker pushing it for us. So sick of DC's inability to deal with it's own realities. I don't blame the feds, I blame DC for being so inept. How's that for jewels Raw?

Posted by: greg | October 16, 2007 1:22 PM

My head is spinning. What cabs do you ride in, Mr. Fisher? The ones I get are dirty, have bald tires, the door handles and/or windows don't work, and the "Service Engine Now" light is always on. And not to mention that in most of them, you can't get the seat belts to buckle or they're so far behind the seat that you can't dig them out. The drivers range from rude to downright insane, and a significant percentage of them don't drive safely. In fact, the poor state of DC's taxis is one of the reasons why I continue to own my own car.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | October 16, 2007 1:27 PM


You're exactly right. Let's keep the zones, but protect riders from unscrupulous cabbies. And let's keep the cab fleet large, independent, and lightly regulated. Lord knows nothing else in this town is.

Posted by: Arlington123 | October 16, 2007 1:30 PM

Thanks for that advise DCCanuk, I'm sure the sentiment was good...

How realistic do you think you are being?

It's raining you need to catch a cab 10 blocks you might have walked? Let me really quickly jump on the internet... and ok, no he quoted me the wrong price... I'll just wait in the rain for the next cab, oops, wrong price again.

Now, it's 1 am, I missed the last metro train, looks like I will need to take a taxi, hold on while I get on the internet... hmmm, this taxi drive wants 40 dollars to drive me to Arlington... ok, no I'll pass... oh look here comes an aggressive panhandler (smiles). I don't mind the wait, this is all about being a savvy consumer. I pride myself on being fair, and paying the right price...

People can sit back and say they are smarter because they know how the system works, but the fact is you can't predict when / how you will always want to use a service. Since the city is responsible for maintaining and dictating the system it would clearly be in the cities best interest to create a system that is transparent and fair. I'm not trying to rip off taxi drivers. But frankly I don't mind if a new system puts some pressure on them because that is going to make them better for everyone.

Posted by: greg | October 16, 2007 1:33 PM

Marc, please read your own comments section, as well as that for "Many D.C. Cab Riders Are Eager for Meters" (WaPo today). To the author researching zone fares I say the same as to Marc about getting out a couple blocks early to avoid an extra zone charge: Why should this be necessary? It certainly takes away from the benefit of a taxi system which is convenience. I will be greatly disappointed in Mayor Fenty if he stays with meters or goes with the rediculous zone/meter system. There is no reason to re-invent a wheel that every other civilized nation has adopted and that works so well (that is, distance meters).

Posted by: Washington, DC | October 16, 2007 1:33 PM

I admit it's difficult for a visitor, but I begin every ride with, "If you don't know where it is I do." It works equally well when I travel and I'm bluffing, but then a part of every conversation before a visit to someone when traveling is, "what's the best way there?"

Posted by: CW | October 16, 2007 1:35 PM

I hope Senator Levin introduces legislation to allow Maryland and Virginia cabs with meters to pick up and discharge customers in DC. Then we can see who wins out--the DC Gypsy cabs on the zone system or the professionally run cabs with meters. Of course, the DC Cabbies will issue a fatwah against all out of MD and VA cabbies, but who cares? I would bet my last nickel that the metered cabs would be chosen by "4 out of 5 dentists" over the zone cabs. Sen. Levin--help us out here!!

Posted by: C-dog | October 16, 2007 1:35 PM

It's funny that the only people on here who are supporting the current zone system all say the same thing - go to the taxi commission website and calculate the fare there or some variation on that...

Nonsense, all of it! You can't look at the map in the cab itself and tell the exact lines between the zones, so how are tourists or residents who don't have a nifty internet-enabled phone going to determine how much they should be charged?

Look, it comes down to this: Taking a cab shouldn't be that hard! And you shouldn't be cheated!

End of story, and hopefully the end of the zone system.

Posted by: corbett | October 16, 2007 1:36 PM

Marc, I'm disappointed in your column. You are way out of touch with the cab taking public. Meters are long overdue. Although there are exceptions, cab drivers in this city are generally not at all inclined to customer service. When I've asked that a cab take me a particular way (to avoid traffic), I've been told "ma'am, I know the best way. I drive for a living. what do you know?" well, I know where I live and how to get there. I know that it's one zone, not two. I know that I don't need to tip and I don't need attitude from a cab driver! Changing over to meters is at least a first step.

Posted by: meters, please! | October 16, 2007 1:37 PM

Marc: I've always enjoyed your writing and reporting, but I'm flabbergasted by the logic of your arguments today.

I've traveled in taxis all over the world -- from water taxi in Venice, to motorcycle taxi in Bangkok (hang on tight!). Every city I've visited bases fares on mileage ("kilometerage?"). World travelers expect when they enter a taxi cab (or boat or motorcycle) to see a meter or some mechanism for calculating fares based on actual distance traveled. I'm a native Washingtonian and I have to constantly fight the perception among foreign friends or other visitors that Washington is a backwards, anarchical world capital. The zone taxi system only confirms their perceptions.

As evidence that anyone (even natives) are subject to being ripped off by the zone system, I offer this tale: A few years ago, I shared a cab with a City Councilman to a rock concert at RFK. When we arrived, the cabbie tried to overcharge us. We protested. The cabbie wouldn't back down, so the City Councilman showed the cabbie his business card. The cabbie still insisted on overcharging us. Finally, we flagged down a police officer, who recognized the City Councilman. Even when the police officer explained to the cabbie that he was in the wrong, the cabbie (in thick foreign accent) still protested. We left with paying the correct fare.

So, if a City Councilman can be ripped off, we are all subject to the ambiguity and unpredictable nature of the zone system. Meters simply are a more "fair" and honest means of calculating correct fares.

Posted by: Dupont | October 16, 2007 1:39 PM

Mr. Fisher,

Your support for the zone system in whatever form, metered or unmetered, completely steals credibility for any other arguments you might make on governance, public policy or making Washington a better place to live and work.

There are NO other cities in the country remotely like Washington. There are no other large but not New York or Chicago cities in this country that are as dense as Washington and its inner suburbs, as prosperous as Washington, as full of tourists as DC, or as well-served by mass transit as Washington.

Seriously, more taxi service than similar-sized cities? What oranges are you comparing the apple of DC too? You're so full of the brown stuff it's coming out your ears!

There can be no justification for a system of zones. The lines between the zones are arbitrary. Without the fundamental ability to put yourself in the shoes of people who live work or shop in places that make zoned taxi pricing inconvenient, you don't deserve your role of commentator on 'reality'. You should be ashamed of yourself.


Posted by: incensed | October 16, 2007 1:42 PM

Fisher must be a cabbie, just cannot fathom why else he would continuallly defend zones. Its so obvious why the cabbies want to keep this ridiculous system, where else can you make up the rules as you go along, and decide on a fare based on how your passenger looks? I can't imagine why anyone who's been to other cities would defend this crackpot system.

Posted by: oy vay | October 16, 2007 1:44 PM

Yes, some of the cabs aren't the best maintained, and yes, cleanliness can vary from cab to cab.

However, in spite of all the problems, you can still hail a cab on the street at most times of the day or night. See how long you stand on the curb early on a weekend morning in Old Town, Bethesda, or even Arlington. I have missed flights when leaving from Alexandria because a cab I RESERVED THE DAY BEFORE failed to show up!!! In DC I could have just walked to the curb and waved.

If you don't want to pay for a cab, wait for a bus, or walk the distance to a metro. But when you really, REALLY need a cab, there is always one available. If the driver conducts a bit of zone bending, give him exactly what you were prepared to anyway, and the difference just comes out of his tip. The driver can take that dirty look and shove it!

Posted by: candyman | October 16, 2007 1:46 PM

I have NEVER heard anything more ridiculous than "the cab system in Washington is a jewel." Marc Fisher can't be serious. He must be taking it on himself to play some sort of devil's advocate. Or else he's just insane.

Why should the burden should be on cab riders to run to the internet to look up a fare every time we want to take a taxi? What about cases of emergency or those people who do not have access to the internet? Oh, and just go ahead and try to get a cabbie to drop you off two blocks outside of a zone so you can save the fare. They won't do it. They'll drive you into another zone, or just flat-out lie.

Why shouldn't the government require the cabdrivers to be honest and accountable? Sure, it's every consumer's responsibility to look out for his own wallet, but the DC zone system is set up to rip off consumers. A GPS zone system isn't adequate either. The ridiculous and arbitrary zones have got to go completely.

I lived in New York for 2 years, and then DC, and there is NO WAY DC cabs are cheaper. I could get from 116th Street to Lower Manhattan for $15, a distance of 9 miles, whereas in DC it cost me $12 to get from Georgetown to the Mall. Don't even get me started on the extra $1.50 per passenger! What is the justification for that?

Posted by: Courtney | October 16, 2007 1:49 PM

Sorry candy man, but that has as much to do with general demand as anything else. DC will still have it's cabs as long as the demand for them is still there.

Posted by: greg | October 16, 2007 1:54 PM

I fail to see how the zone system is inherently a better way to weight fares so "neighborhood errands" are cheap and long commutes are more expensive. Just because NYC charges $2.50 meter drop + $0.40 1/5th mile doesn't mean DC cant charge, say, $1.50 meter drop and $0.70 1/5th mile or whatever. That is one of the nice thing about meters, you can weight the fares however you want.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2007 1:58 PM

This is no jewel. Having cabs refuse to let you in as you wait on the street at 2am after a long day's work, just because you tell them your destination is not the most profitable location for them, puts the city's residents and visitors in danger and is significantly inconvenient.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2007 2:00 PM

I'm piling on with most of these folks here. I'm really tired of arguing about fares. I'd rather argue about driving routes, if only for the change of pace.
Zone meters are a cop out; who know Big Taxi was so influential? All this idea amounts to is the high-tech entrenchment of a fundamentally flawed system. After setting up the infrastructure to put these zone meters in place, we won't have a serious discussion about cab service in this city for decades.
Also, if the zone meters are treated like the rest of the cab, they'll all be broken in the first month.

Posted by: Jeffrey | October 16, 2007 2:06 PM

Marc- You are so wrong.

If I take a taxi cab from the South corner of 14th and U streets to the North corner, 15 feet away it is a $9 ride!!!! $10 if it is rush hour.

And those greedy cabbies get to keep all the money tax free.

Shame on you for spilling this garbage.

Please call Mayor Fenty if you agree now!
202 727 6300

Posted by: Mark | October 16, 2007 2:09 PM

I lived in DC for 7 years and have never met a single person who likes the zone system.

I don't see the point of shorter trips subsidizing longer trips... where's the fairness in that?

Posted by: Francois | October 16, 2007 2:11 PM

Call me now if you want meters and tell me.

202 727-6300

Posted by: Mayor Fenty | October 16, 2007 2:11 PM

What will the zone meters do if you take the cab from DC to Arlington or Chevy Chase or DCA? If they do not then switch to a meter then we still have a major problem.

Posted by: important question | October 16, 2007 2:13 PM

Forget about zones for a minute....I live in VA and have taken many cabs over the years from DC to VA. I've overpaid, I've underpaid, I've had drivers ask "What do you normally pay?" or say "Give me whatever you think is right." I finally took it upon myself to find out what the fare is supposed to be. I knew it's "based on mileage" when you travel to VA/MD, but that's all.

Here's the formula: $3.25 for the first half mile (or fraction) plus $0.90 per half mile (or fraction) thereafter. Plus $1.50 extra per passenger, plus $1 extra during rush hour.

So a cab driver is supposed to keep track of half miles (which I don't even think they have on their odometers) and then do the math on that? Yeah, right.

If DC wants to keep it's weird zone system, that's fine by me. But let's at least have meters for people whose fare isn't based on zones. Have a hybrid system. Or better yet, meters for all. If a longtime resident like me gets confused and frustrated, I can only imagine how tourists feel.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2007 2:18 PM

I have lived in Washington for over 10 years. I take at least 1 taxi ride per day, and I get into at least 4-5 arguments a week!

Just last night, I was taking a cab from 18th and K to 20th and Connecticut with 2 other passengers (keep in mind this is one zone). One zone is $6.50, this was non rush hour late at night. Each additional passenger is $1.50. Now ladies and gents, we arrived and the cab driver demands $12.50. I asked him why and he indicated that it was $8.00 for the cab ride and $1.50 for each passenger. Now the real fare should have been $9.50, the one zone of $6.50 + $1.50 for each additional passenger beyond the 1st one. I got into a 10 minute argument, gave him a $10 spot and told him to go Eff himself. This is a regular occurence for long time residents. GIVE US METERS!

Posted by: I Hate DC Cabbies | October 16, 2007 2:19 PM

The zone-meter will not solve the problem of interstate fares. After 15 years as a DC resident, I moved to Montgomery County, about half a mile from the DC boundary. Sometimes when I tell cab drivers that I'm going to Maryland they just drive off. If you don't expressly tell them they have to use their odometer to calculate the fare, they usually don't. Even when you do tell them they often don't do it. I've heard excuses like "my odometer's broken" and "I don't have my fare calculator." Sometimes they pad the mileage by a couple miles or more so they can charge you $20 for a $15 fare. Sometimes they ask "what do you usually pay?" and then argue with you when you tell them. I generously tip the honest cabbies who do it right, and stiff the ones who overcharge (though their inflated fare has the same effect as a generous tip). Increasingly I prefer to just take the Metro and then take a Montgomery County cab home from the Metro station, where there is a line of them waiting for me. It takes more time and I only save a few dollars, but it can be such a hassle to take DC cabs that it's worth it . . . plus the underemployed MD cabbies in their clean, metered cabs get more work and the DC cabbies in their rip-off rattletraps lose fares. Fine by me.

Posted by: MD commuter | October 16, 2007 2:21 PM

Is anyone questioning how much these "GPS zone meters" are going to cost and who is going to pay for them? They sound like something out of the Jetson's, and rest assured that the cabriding public will be footing the bill via fare increases.

Posted by: steve | October 16, 2007 2:25 PM

The whole thing about neighborhood fares is a fake issue. Short rides can be made more or less expensive simply by changing the fare for the initial 1/4 mile. Make it $2, $3, $4, whatever you want. All metered cab systems operate this way. You don't pay the same fare for the first 1/4 mile as the subsequent ones. The main losers in the changing to meters will be dishonest cab drivers.

Posted by: BP from DC | October 16, 2007 2:27 PM

You're right, we wouldn't have these problems if people would just do their homework! Go to the taxicab commission web site and plug in your coordinates and calculate your fare in advance. If you don't have access to the Internet, sucks for you. If it's 2 am and you're stumbling out of a bar and you don't have a blackberry, tough beans. If you're a tourist and didn't realize that DC has something called a zone system, then you're a major loser and should just go home!

Puh-leez. That's like saying I should go to Target's website to look up the price of a toaster to make sure I get charged correctly when I get to the store. People who try to justify the current DC cab system are forgetting one thing: Cabs exist to serve the public. Period. No one should have to know the zone map or get out 2 blocks before their stop or allow other passengers to be picked up along the way. And no one should have to wonder: What's my fare going to be this time? Will I be ripped off or not? That's what runs through my head *every* time I take a cab.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2007 3:03 PM

Watch Marc say tomorrow that opinion on this topic is split between taxi riders. I have never seen a journalist so dishonest over something so obvious.

Posted by: Jon | October 16, 2007 3:54 PM

Does anyone know Fenty's email address?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2007 4:05 PM

It is becoming blatently obvious that DC still does not have any respect for the wishes of its residents. However this whole argument would have never occured without the help of Congress. Turn to your elected officals and write them to legislate distance meters in cabs, no exceptions.

you can find your representative at and

Posted by: Write Congress | October 16, 2007 6:10 PM

"Adopting the zone meters puts the D.C. taxi system at the forefront of the industry, using GPS technology to assure that riders don't get cheated. It saves the basic architecture of a fare system that has served the city well for seven decades..."

Seven decades of paying more to go five blocks than going 20 blocks. This is just not right, sir.

Posted by: maxi | October 16, 2007 8:58 PM

"The system just isn't as hard to use as some people like to pretend, and it keeps many rides that would be $12-$16 in NYC at $9-$11."

Really? Then please explain to me why a fare from Union Station to 5th and East Capitol- a distance of five blocks- costs $9.00. Thank you.

Posted by: maxi | October 16, 2007 9:01 PM

Is there any way that DC cabbies can make a living without impossibly long hours? Are there too many cabs for the size of the pie?

About eight years ago, I was taken through Rock Creek Park at 10:30 pm. It was dark and lonely, and I was on my way home from the airport to my (then) home in Mount Pleasant. I noticed that my cabbie was slow to pull away from stop signs and traffic lights unless honked at by cars behind him. I finally realized that he was FALLING ASLEEP everytime he stopped. Rather than demand to be put out at that time of night, a woman alone, in Rock Creek Park, with two suitcases, I moved over directly behind him and poked him each time he was supposed to move forward. It was very scary. Other cabbies have told me that they have to work long hours because there are too many cabs.

I can also tell you about the night I had to catch a Dulles flight to Africa, and DC cabbies were not driving at all because they were upset that they had been banned from the City center because of security restrictions for the 50th anniversary of NATO. Talk about a professional response! The dispatchers wouldn't even answer their phones. I had to get my elderly neighbor to take me to the airport at the very last minute. I was in charge of a two-week Embassy training program that was to start the next day. I could NOT postpone my flight.

That was definitely not what I would call customer-friendly. That boycott did not even make the news, as I recall.

Posted by: Hill Resident | October 17, 2007 1:29 AM

Clearly not written from the perspective of anyone who is even remotely familiar with taking a cab in this city. This system is an antiquated embarassment for us and the visitors we welcome each year. Mayor Fenty needs to do the right thing here and provide a new approach to yet another old, failed idea. This system is good for everyone except for the people who depend actually depend on it. There is no sense in hanging onto something so broken, so open to abuse just for the sake of being different. There is a reason we are the only city of our size to allow a system like this to exist. Everyone else has figured it out. Apparently Fisher has not.

Posted by: Nick | October 17, 2007 7:14 AM

EAT CROW, FISHER! According to Fenty (in today's WaPo) "District residents are overwhelmingly in favor of modernizing and simplifying the fare system." Here come the meters!

Posted by: WaPo's next Metro blogger/columnist | October 17, 2007 10:31 AM

So much for tea leaves! Yea, Fenty, yeah meters. Finally, it may happen.

Posted by: ah | October 17, 2007 11:14 AM

HaHa marc,
you lose!!!!! The people win. I can't wit to hear you cry like a little baby over this story.

Posted by: Jon | October 17, 2007 11:17 AM

Yeah, take your shining jewel of a cab system and drive over to the new DC United Stadium in Maryland. How many zones will that be and how many zones will the cabbie demand you pay for?

Posted by: C-dog | October 17, 2007 11:21 AM


Posted by: greg | October 17, 2007 11:22 AM


Thank you fenty for taking down such a worthless and terrible system...

Posted by: Douglas | October 17, 2007 11:26 AM

Gee, talk about sore winners.

I hate zones and I'm glad to see them go - eventually. As the story says "Fenty said he has no idea how much the transition will cost or what the timetable will be. Much of that will be worked out by the Taxicab Commission, and Chairman Leon Swain said he will call a meeting within two weeks."

Posted by: I hate zones | October 17, 2007 1:42 PM

Marc- Thank you for posting this garbage and inciting a near riot of backlash against the gps meters. I'm sure the Mayor got a million angry calls based on this that led him to change his mind.

DC RESIDENTS- Please call or write the Mayor and thank him for doing the right thing. And remind him we need better enforcement of our taxi regulations and increased fines for dishonest cabbies. Do you know the fine for overcharging is only $25? What kind of detterent is that?

Posted by: DC Residents | October 17, 2007 1:58 PM

Hey Marc! Just wanted to add my voice to the loud chorus saying you're way off base in your assessment here. Glad Fenty made the right call and killed another part of Good Ol' Boy DC.

Posted by: Matt B | October 17, 2007 3:54 PM


Glad you posted this article yesterday, it made me fireed up enough to email the mayor.

In your face!

Posted by: Kenneth | October 17, 2007 4:17 PM

"Get ready for a decline in the city's driver-owned cab culture ...which will in turn lead to a dramatic drop in the number of cabs on the streets"

For me, I would much rather have a little bit more trouble finding a cab than getting ripped off time after time.

Marc, I normally agree with you, but in this case, you are soooo wrong.

I think you should be fired.

Posted by: Binesh | October 17, 2007 4:22 PM

marc's update says: "Get ready for a decline in the city's driver-owned cab culture and a move toward large fleets, which will in turn lead to a dramatic drop in the number of cabs on the streets, more reliance on radio-controlled cabs rather than street hailing, and, inevitably, higher fares."

Those are, frankly, totally unsubstantiated claims. Tell me, Fisher, if you can make such claims on a Post blog, how do I get the paper to pay me to have a blog as well? I can just as easily repeat the cab drivers talking points too.

Posted by: corbett | October 19, 2007 2:15 PM

Between this "blog" and the petworth blogger "blog" you should just quit your job, Fisher. You have NO idea what you are talking about.

Posted by: What a JOKE | October 22, 2007 10:54 AM

All of you idiots are going to be crying in a few years when you can't get a cab because it's controlled by three companies. You people are STUPID.

Posted by: MetersSux | October 23, 2007 10:25 AM


Fenty has proposed an outrageously high base fare of $4. Even NYC is only $2.50.

Compare the following charges for a one mile ride (based on little or no traffic):
Boston $3.85
Chicago $3.85
New York $4.10
Philadelphia $4.50
Los Angeles $4.75
DC $5.25

Don't let the Taxicab Comission screw DC residents again!

Posted by: DC Resident | November 1, 2007 4:57 PM


Fenty has proposed an outrageously high base fare of $4. Even NYC is only $2.50.

Compare the following charges for a one mile ride (based on little or no traffic):
Boston $3.85
Chicago $3.85
New York $4.10
Philadelphia $4.50
Los Angeles $4.75
DC $5.25

Don't let the Taxicab Comission screw DC residents again!

Posted by: DC Resident | November 1, 2007 4:57 PM

Don't let the Taxicab Commission screw DC residents again!

Please sign our online petition:

Posted by: DC Residents for Reasonable Taxi Fares | November 5, 2007 12:49 PM

Don't let the Taxicab Commission screw DC residents again!

Please sign our online petition:

Posted by: DC Residents for Reasonable Taxi Fares | November 5, 2007 12:49 PM

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