Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

Taxi Fares & The American Dream

F or now, in the Silver Spring development of Dumont Oaks, there are more D.C. cabs -- dozens of them -- parked along the streets than there are "For Sale" signs on houses going through foreclosure.

Hiwot Haileselassie wants to keep it that way. She and her husband work as architects in Rockville, but they credit their professional careers and success in this country to Washington's unique cab system. Only by driving a D.C. cab could her husband make the money and carve out the time that allowed both of them to go to school and climb the ladder in a new land, says the Ethiopian immigrant.

Now, with several dozen Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrant taxi drivers living alongside her in this Montgomery County townhouse community, Haileselassie feels obliged to help the drivers save their path to success.

"America is supposed to be about upward mobility," she says. "We were able to move up because of the taxicab. But now the city wants to take this away. Why would they do this?"

For decades, Washington's taxi system has served as an economic elevator for natives and immigrants alike. Nearly 7,500 independent proprietors roam the streets, each driver his own small business. Six weeks before the District scraps its 77-year-old zone fare system, taxi owners are increasingly sure that their incomes will drop dramatically under the meter fare schedule that Mayor Adrian Fenty imposed after a congressional fiat.

Nobody gets rich driving a cab; the competition for passengers on D.C. streets is fierce, in part because Washington is the only major city in the country that doesn't place strict limits on the number of cabs on the street.

People kept applying for hack licenses because, if you worked long hours, you could make a living. Raising a family was still a struggle under the zone system, but if you were out on the street six days a week, you could manage to make the down payment on the $250,000 houses that many bought in Dumont Oaks.

Come May, the drivers say, that will change. They have run the numbers on the washingtonpost.com fare estimator, and they have reams of paper spelling out just how far their incomes will fall under the new system. A two-zone, 1.2-mile fare in the center of the city that now costs a rider $8.80 will drop to $5 with the meters cabbies have been ordered to install.

Factor in the removal of rush-hour surcharges under the new system, and "a taxi is becoming cheaper than a bus," says Anghesom Bisrat, an Eritrean immigrant who has driven a cab for eight of his 13 years in the United States. The difference in fares may be only a couple of dollars to most passengers, but the cabbies say the cheaper fares will eliminate the bulk of their profit margin.

"My income would go down 50 percent," says Negussie Tedla, who has lived in this country for 27 years and has raised two honor roll students. "How is it fair that with gas prices going up so high and the cost of living rising, all other transportation fares go up, but taxi fares go down? We work so hard, and we don't want any special treatment. We just want to be allowed to make our living. Who benefits if we lose our house and end up in the welfare line?"

The church many of the Ethiopian drivers attend has announced a month of prayer and fasting to save the members' homes by halting the city's new fare policy. After many years of rivalry, Ethiopian and native-born black cabbies, the two largest populations among the city's drivers, have joined forces to fight the new fare system, filing suit in Superior Court and staging occasional one-day strikes to gain public attention to their cause.

But with the new rules a few weeks from being enforced, there is little political or popular support for the cabbies. Haileselassie and a group of drivers assembled in her living room say they would embrace a compromise -- zone meters that would use GPS technology to measure trips and guarantee a fair price. The idea is to retain the old fare system while providing passengers with receipts and holding rogue drivers accountable.

Fenty considered and rejected that proposal, choosing to align the District with the fare system used in almost every other city.

The drivers tell story after story of the good deeds their colleagues do -- returning lost wallets, reuniting government agents with secret documents left on a back seat.

In Dumont Oaks, when the Ethiopian families get together, the talk is of their children's accomplishments; their joke is that when the local school holds its student awards night, the parents in the room seem like a convention of taxi drivers.

These days, their gatherings have become occasions to trade not proud boasts but wrenching worries.

"The drivers are my family," Haileselassie says. "When your family's being hurt, you don't stand by and watch."

By Marc Fisher |  March 23, 2008; 10:10 AM ET
Previous: The Next Radio: How To Discover New Music | Next: Schools Monday: Watch Your Language

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



Marc, since when is a taxi system supposed to be a social welfare system?

These cabbies are still complaining when the new proposed fares are still HIGHER THAN ANY OTHER CITY IN THE US:
NYC: $2.50 base, no extra passenger fee
Atlanta: $2.50 base, no extra passenger fee
San Francisco: $2.50 base, no extra passenger fee
Seattle: $2.50 base, no extra passenger fee
Boston: $1.75 base, no extra passenger fee
Philadelphia: $2.70 base,no extra passenger fee
Portland: $1.90 base, no extra passenger fee
Miami: $2.50 base, no extra passenger fee

***DC: $3.00 base, $1.50 extra passenger fee***


Marc,did you even consider that more people will take cabs when the price is closer to that of every other city in America? It's a basic economic fact then when the price drops, demand increases.

Marc, did you even consider that other cities make cabbies but NEW cars and in DC they can have a 10 year old cab? Did you consider it costs NYC cab drivers nearly $300,000 for a medallion, yet they still manage to make a living on a lower fare than what is proposed for DC?

THE REAL TRUTH is that while drivers will get paid more than any other cab drivers in America they are mad that they now will have an income trail and have to pay their full share of taxes!!!!

Marc, you should be fired for printing this garbage.

Posted by: THE TRUTH | March 23, 2008 12:58 PM

Marc,
I am basically going to post the same thing I have in your official column. Why do you refuse to present both sides of the issue. Why do you refuse to acknowledge that the reason these taxi's are so profitable is because they are breaking the law. Are you that desperate for readers that you have to go back to your guaranteed contraversial topic?

Marc,
Why must you continually shill for this community of frauds? Yes their income will drop, but its because they now have to be accountable for their actions. No longer can they charge people 2 or 3 zones for a one zone fair. Now there will be some accountability to paying their taxes. All in all this has been a very dishonest group that is being brought in check with the rest of the world. Those who have been honest with their taxes and fares have nothing to fear. Those who have lied and cheated the system to get ahead now have to face the reality there is a new sheriffs in town. Fenty no longer wants DC to stand as capital of corruption.

Posted by: Natsural | March 23, 2008 1:34 PM

I took a cab with my elderly grandmother who wanted to see the FDR and WWII memorials. The driver made a wrong turn, ended up in VA and tried to charge us for 2 zones. I called him on his mistake and had to argue for 10 minutes for him to give us the correct fare.

Quite frankly, it sounds like the cab drivers are making more than I am, and I have a college degree and a decent office job. That just doesn't seem right to me. I can't afford a $250k condo.

Posted by: Liz | March 23, 2008 2:10 PM

Since when does the upbringing of children depend on screwing consumers of one's services to the maximum amount possible amid an antiquated fare system with no controls? It doesn't, though this piece attempts to develop the impression. Let DC cabbies do businss the way cabbies in other major cities do and stop bellyaching before giving the meter system a chance...unless they know they have behaving in a criminal manner beforehand.

Posted by: gimme a break | March 23, 2008 2:24 PM

A little balance would be nice - the old zone system was based on wide spread fraud. Drivers would routinely try to overcharge customers, and the new meter system will prevent that.

Posted by: Steve | March 23, 2008 2:27 PM

Marc,

A 2-zone one passenger ride does not cost $8.80. Thanks to the current gas surcharge it costs $9.80. If you are going to champion an unpopular cause, you'd do better to present correct information.

Posted by: Cleveland Park | March 23, 2008 2:52 PM

And that 2 zone $9.80 ride right now can be for a 3 block ride! What is fair about that?

Posted by: Marc is lame | March 23, 2008 2:58 PM

No one is entitled to a certain job in this country. Somehow cab drivers in EVERY OTHER CITY in America manage to make a decent living (although maybe not $250,000 condos). Yet when D.C. implements through its executive and legislative powers a fair and just system, the cabbies here scream "poverty." If you can't make it as a cabbie anymore, get another job. Fewer cab drivers mean more fares for the honest ones who are left.

Posted by: ep | March 23, 2008 4:20 PM

Marc, I have no sympathy for d.c. cab drivers at all. Every night that I try to take a cab I am discriminated against because I live in Southwest D.C. Cabs stop for me, ask where I'm going then refuse to open their doors. Maybe if we can regulate these guys a little bit they will stop discriminating against passnegers and constantly trying to over charge us. The cab drivers brought this situation on themselves by alienating and pissing off their customers

Posted by: Anonymous | March 23, 2008 5:56 PM

They're worried about paying their cell-phone bills.

Posted by: SWDC | March 23, 2008 8:45 PM

Marc,

I'd like to think that deep down, you really care about the welfare of D.C. cab drivers. But after reading multiple stories of yours on this issue, I think that you're taking this issue personally. The severity of the response to your position has caught you by surprise, and you're subbornly determined to research every hypothetical argument for your position just to stick it to your critics.

This time, Marc, take one for the team and admit that you're probably wrong. And move on. Please.

Posted by: Self-Interest | March 23, 2008 11:28 PM

Why the bellyaching over a meter system that doesn't screw passengers? I can't stand when I get in a cab and tell the driver where to go, only for them to tell me they don't know how to get there. Of course, they'd rather drive a block out of the way to make me pay more...

Why can't the cabbies get better jobs if they don't think they make enough to get by?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 24, 2008 12:02 AM

Taxis are first and foremost an integral part of the public transit system.

They are not supposed to be a guarantee of of a make-work program for low-skilled and recent immigrant workers.

And it recently cost me $14 to go six blocks, from Union Station to a home on the Hill. Picking up two out of town guests at Union Station and taking them six blocks cost $14.

That's simply indefensible.

Posted by: Hillman | March 24, 2008 12:14 AM

Normally a taxi post would already have 100 responses. Marc's reasoning is so tired that no one is even yelling at him anymore. He is just being ignored, which is even worse. Marc is already irrelevant on this issues and is ruining his reputation as a fighter for the residents of DC each time he writes about this topic.

Posted by: Jon | March 24, 2008 7:49 AM

I read the comments here on this post and I wonder how many people would like to accept a pay cut imposed by the government. Why doesn't the government cut the pay of every one else while they are at it?

These Taxi Cab drivers are hard working African Americans who are native or those who immigrated from African countries who are being responsible and raising great kids. Some of these kids have grown to be professionals of high caliber like neurologists, lawyers, doctors of all sorts ... If you go to Montgomery county public schools most of the African American kids you see in the gifted and talented programs are sons and daughters of DC taxi cab drivers whose fathers are taking conscious effort to help their kids achieve. Even in the highly coveted "Centers for the highly gifted" where the competion is fierce to get into, year after year 50-100% of the African American kids who get into the program are sons of African immigrant taxi cab drivers. And this is not the norm where teacher after teacher has told me the average grade of an above average African American Male student in most Montgomery county public schools is 2.9.

Why are the Taxi Cab drivers being penalized for being responsible fathers?

Posted by: Hiwot | March 24, 2008 10:08 AM

Since when did DC residents have to be responsible for making work and paying the highest fares in the nation so that residents of Montgomery County could have well paying jobs?????

Why do taxi drivers here feel like they desrve to make twice as much money as every other city in the country?

Posted by: Responder to Hiwot | March 24, 2008 10:17 AM

That post about African Americans was one of the most illogical comments I have ever read about the taxi situation.
1) This is not a pay cut, at least it shouldn't be. Its much closer to shutting down a mob extortion scheme and then having a newspaper write how would you like it if your salary was cut. If these people paid taxes and didn't rip people off they will make more money. You don't have a right to break the law.
2) There are no proof posted about the GT programs. 98% of people everywhere know you can make up a stat to say anything. It generally helps if you have a real scientific study to back it up.
3) It doesn't matter what race these people are. I would argue the same thing if they were white, yellow, pink or purple. The reality is no one has a right to rip people off and the cabs should not be used as a method of affirmative action.

Do your work, pay your taxes or find another job.

Posted by: Jon | March 24, 2008 11:00 AM

I will probably Organize the the D.C Cab drivers community to send a copy of their honor roll kids achievement Awards to Washington Post's Office.

You might be more interconnected to the Cabbies than anyone of you might think, the Cabbies have bought houses in Virginia, Maryland and D.C in hundreds over the years and if you see any D.C. Cabbies in your neighborhood there will be forclosures by a great percentage. It will be in hundreds to a few thousand. It will probably be the last straw that will break the back of Housing in the Metropolitan area.

Posted by: Hiwot | March 24, 2008 12:47 PM

There is not a single defender of Marc Fisher's position on this subject in this thread of comments, except "Hiwot" who is obviously an immigrant cab driver himself.
The majority, and more importantly the D.C. Govt., has spoken...deal with it!
The current zone system is ripe for fraud, and the cabbies like it that way. Hell, they won't even turn on the air conditioner in the heat of a Washington summer, because "it uses too much gas". I am paying for the ride, and I deserve to be comfortable.

Posted by: Common Sense | March 24, 2008 1:16 PM

Marc - I really like your column. I mean I really like it. But on this occasion, Mayor Fenty won and your viewpoint lost. Time to build a bridge and get over it.

Posted by: goodriddancetodctaxis | March 24, 2008 1:43 PM

The idea that the housing market will collapse further if Cabbies have to pay the tax they owe is laughable. Your now really reaching. I don't think your arguments could get worse.

Posted by: Reality | March 24, 2008 2:21 PM

For those of you who use the "WASHINGTON FLYER TAXI" from Dulles, WHY WOULD THEY BRING PASSENGERS INTO DC FOR $50-$60($1.80per mile) AND WE RETURN THESE SAME PASSENGERS BACK OUT TO DULLES FOR $40-$50($1.50per mile, under the current proposed rate)? Most of you are so misinformed and don't even know what you are talking about! I challenge all of you to find a major city that has $1.50 per mile rate! THAT'S SO RIDICULOUS! Please understand the difference between the initial rate and the per mile rate! How reasonable is it if we get $3 initial(drop rate), 20 to 50 cents higher than most major cities, and $1.50 per mile thereafter? Before you rush into these completely false comparisons and claim that we will actually be making the same or more than others, would you please compare this $1.50 per mile rate(ONE THAT'S SO OUTDATED THAT IT WAS A RATE FROM 1990-1995) to any major city? New York:$2/mile, Boston:$2.10/mile, Most major cities in California over $2/mile! So why us? I am quick to aknowledge that there exist drivers who overcharge(hear it all the time from my regular customers). But gee, are you going to blindly accuse the whole industry with your offensive, misguided and undermining comments? I asked before and i'll ask it now: Would any of you take a pay cut of up to 45% because a minority workforce at your job were found overcharging your company's clients? SO WHY US? Most of you along with the city want us to align with the way other cities do business. Fine. Then how about giving us the rates of those cities at $2+ per mile?

Posted by: millionayle | March 24, 2008 9:44 PM

As a DC cab driver, yes, I was finally able to afford my own condo for $150K. And considering the fact that I work about 90 hours a week and have nothing else to show for it, it really makes me wonder where the money is going. This ain't a cheep city to live in. For some reason, people think that we will be getting the highest rates in the country. But in fact, it's just the opposite. We will have the lowest. The most important component of a taxi fare system is the rate charged per mile. NOT THE DROP RATE. THERE WILL BE NO OTHER MAJOR CITY IN THE ENTIRE NATION DOWN AT $1.50/mile. And Fenty wants to pull that stuff here? Some things are best left to a full panel of industry professionals with many years in the business who can more accurately assess where the prices should be. You know...like the taxicab commission.

Posted by: Nick | March 25, 2008 12:24 AM

What about the $1 gas surcharge?
What about the $1.50 extra passenger charge? NYC doesn't even charge that?
What about the $3 extra high drop rate?
What about the $2 extra for each piece of luggage?
What about the $.50 for each bag?

From the city's own study, most cab rides are under 2 miles. So what are you complaining about? DC will have the most expensive cab rides for the vast majority of rides.

Posted by: Stop complaining Nick | March 25, 2008 10:36 AM

Sure, NYC doesn't charge for extra passengers. And sure, I'd be happy to work at New York's prices, but while you're at it, can you throw in the $2.00/mile that they get, and the longer trips on average, and the higher population density, and the higher volume of business, less downtime, the higher consistency and less volatilty, the larger area in which they are licensed (because taxis are licensed by the county...not by the city...meaning more return trips), the smaller amount of downtime, and the fact that they have seven times fewer taxis per capita than we do. That's right. SEVEN. And sure, I'd be happy to work at warehouse prices!!! Thank God that the taxi commission was left with the option of the fuel surcharge, because with Fenty's prices, we wouldn't make it otherwise. I dare them to run his prices bare....They will see soon enough that it just ain't gonna fly. I dare them.

Posted by: Nick | March 25, 2008 12:48 PM

Sure, NYC doesn't charge for extra passengers. And sure, I'd be happy to work at New York's prices, but while you're at it, can you throw in the $2.00/mile that they get, and the longer trips on average, and the higher population density, and the higher volume of business, less downtime, the higher consistency and less volatilty, the larger area in which they are licensed (because taxis are licensed by the county...not by the city...meaning more return trips), the smaller amount of downtime, and the fact that they have seven times fewer taxis per capita than we do. That's right. SEVEN. And sure, I'd be happy to work at warehouse prices!!! Thank God that the taxi commission was left with the option of the fuel surcharge, because with Fenty's prices, we wouldn't make it otherwise. I dare them to run his prices bare....They will see soon enough that it just ain't gonna fly. I dare them.

Posted by: Nick | March 25, 2008 12:50 PM

Mr Mayor, I recently saw you on Fox 5 stating that every other city has time-distance meter. My question is: Have you then took into consideration their "per-mile" rate before coming up with this insulting "$1.50 per mile" rate that is so from the early 90's? Currently, our interstate rate is 1.80 per mile. Why would you reduce it to $1.50, a whopping $30 reduction per 100 miles! Why Mr mayor? Aren't democratic politicians suppose to be fair for the low income earners and the vulnerable ones? We aknowledge there is a dysfunction in the system by small minority, but is it fair to punish us all? Please review your decision to Zone meter or increase your proposed rate from 25 cents per 1/6 mile to 30 cents per 1/7 mile. Thank you.

Posted by: millionayle | March 25, 2008 11:39 PM

Mr Mayor, I recently saw you on Fox 5 stating that every other city has time-distance meter. My question is: Have you then took into consideration their "per-mile" rate before coming up with this insulting "$1.50 per mile" rate that is so from the early 90's? Currently, our interstate rate is 1.80 per mile. Why would you reduce it to $1.50, a whopping $30 reduction per 100 miles! Why Mr mayor? Aren't democratic politicians suppose to be fair for the low income earners and the vulnerable ones? We aknowledge there is a dysfunction in the system by small minority, but is it fair to punish us all? Please review your decision to Zone meter or increase your proposed rate from 25 cents per 1/6 mile to 30 cents per 1/7 mile. Thank you.

Posted by: millionayle | March 25, 2008 11:39 PM

Mark,
I just want to Thank You, for your continued discussion on the First and Last Free Enterprise System in America, for People of Colors Freedom in America.

Hope that the Washington Post, will get around too investigating and putting in print the real history of the DC Hack/Taxicab system and the African born in America, Freedom.

For the US Congress to demand meters in DC Hack/taxicabs was to duck the issue of Freedom for the African American and Immigrant Community. A Committed DC Hack/Taxicab/Owner/Driver over 40 years, Billy Ray Edwards.

Posted by: Billy Ray Edwards | March 26, 2008 4:22 AM

The taxi drivers are for the most part not low-skilled, at least not in terms of their backgrounds. Many of them probably have at least college degrees and some even advanced degrees and more than a few were probably among the elite in their home countries. That is one reason they are so offended at the prospect of change, I think. They cannot bear the possibility of losing even a bit of their income, granted something that is hard for anyone no matter their level of education. Second, the system when lawfully applied is unfair. Like countless people have said, $9.80 for two zones for a trip of less than one mile, is criminal. (Marc, it is NOT $8.80 as you stated in your article. You should do an official correction.) I don't believe I am getting ripped off illegally. I believe I am getting ripped off legally.

Posted by: Not low-skilled | March 26, 2008 8:01 AM

The New York Cab's are cheaper myth.
Well here is how the rates of New York go.

2.5 pick up,
2 dollars per mile
.40 for each minute the Cab is traveling below 12 miles an hour.
1.0-dollar peak hour surcharge
$.50 night surcharge after 8:00 p.m. up to 6:00 a.m.
There is also a 3.50 additional passenger surcharge to the business district.


And to some surrounding Counties that do not allow the Cabbies to pick up passengers, the fare is regular meter rate to the County line and double the meter rate once the Cabbies enter the counties. (If we translate this to the D.C. cabbies we will have to double the fares to the MD and VA, once they pass the D.C. line.)

The major difference between D.C. and other surrounding Cab business is that D.C. Cabbies are owners of their own Cabs and they don't have to pay the outrageous rent of Cab which amounts to 100 Dollars a day for a total of 600 dollars a week. This allows them to work a reasonable 8-10 hours of a day for 6-7 days to make a living instead of 16+ hours the neighborhood Cabbies have to drive to even make minimum wage. This in turn allows them to be available for their kids, buy houses, and better themselves if they wanted by going to colleges. It is a known fact that the Cab companies have eyed this last remaining free enterprise. Don't believe the hype once the Cab companies drive the independent Cabbies out they will vigorously lobby the D.C. government and bring up the cost of riding a cab beyond many D.C. residents.

Posted by: Hiwot | March 27, 2008 10:55 AM

If you guys want higher rates, then your customers want you to drive new cars, not the 10 year old cars you drive. You cant expect to get the highest rates in the country when your costs are the lowest to enter business (car, licenses, etc.).

Posted by: Old cars | March 27, 2008 4:45 PM

If you guys want higher rates, then your customers want you to drive new cars, not the 10 year old cars you drive. You cant expect to get the highest rates in the country when your costs are the lowest to enter business (car, licenses, etc.).

Posted by: Old cars | March 27, 2008 4:45 PM

Consider the following scenario: You are running late to work and can't wait for the bus and you don't own a car. According to Google Maps, I live exactly 1.2 miles from work and the ride takes about 7 minutes (from Adams Morgan to the 2100 block of M Street).

Facts for this scenario:
Starting zone: Zone 2B.
Destination Zone: Zone 1
Total Zones traveled 2 zones
--------------------------
Charges:
--------------------------
2 zone fare: $8.80
Gas Surcharge $1:00
Rush hour charge: $1.00
----------------------------
Sub TOTAL: $10.80
----------------------------
Optional Tip: $2.00
------------------------
Theoretical TOTAL: $12.80
*Actual Total: $13.00
-------------------------
*Divers rarely give exact change, they will if you insist AND if they have the proper coins on them but its faster to let them round it up if you are in a rush.

It's my understanding that the exact same ride under a meter system will cost $4.50 w/ no tip and .. $5.50 w/ a decent tip.

I'm a college graduate who works hard and does not live in a 200k townhouse. Should a 1.2 mile cab ride to work cost more than the price of lunch?

DC Cab drivers have it great; DC cab passengers do not. It is only fair to have DC cab drivers use a meter system just as all other cab drivers do in all other US cities.

Here's a simple/passive way for passengers to express their discontent: Stop tipping and start insisting on exact change. For rides you take often go to the dc gov's Taxi Cab Fair Calculator web site (url below) input your start and destination locations and keep a print out of the info in your wallet. If you a driver tries to over charge you show him your print out and then write down his license number and report him.

Reference:
http://citizenatlas.dc.gov/atlasapps/taxifare.aspx

Posted by: chris | April 5, 2008 12:03 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company