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World Fares: Taxi, Please

John Deiner

Count me among the multitudes who think that D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty made the right call when he decided that the city's cabs must switch over to meters from the weird, antiquated zone system that's confounded the world for decades.

One thing that's struck me in the pro-meter argument is the overriding belief that D.C. needs a good cab system to project its position as a world-class capital city. And, boy, who can argue with that? The first thing many first-time visitors to our city face is the Mysterious Shifting Cab Fare. It seems as if it never costs the same to make an identical trip in this town.

If you travel much, or at all, you get the sense that other cities do it (much) better. Say what you will about New York cabs, but they're everywhere, and cheaper. If you've been there lately, the newest innovation is a bit off-putting: Cabs are being outfitted with GPS systems and credit-card readers. A lot of drivers aren't happy in the Big Apple about this development. In this case, I'm with them, but only because I find the devices distracting. The little panels show you where you are on a map (which is cool), but in the cab I was in, the flat-screen monitor was showing ads and a TV show as well. Just too much going on, when I'd rather be looking out the window or chatting with the driver.

And how many among us remember cab trips almost as fondly as the vacation itself? Sometimes, they're intricately linked. I remember the cabbie who saved our trip to Portugal last year when he returned my wife's wallet, which had fallen out of her purse. He refused a tip; we literally threw money through his car window as he sped off. In Lima, a cabbie dodged a huge street protest and drove us down dirt roads to get us to the airport on time. Turns out he didn't know we were in a rush: He just needed to pick up his kid from school.

So are we pro or con metered cabs? And when you get to a city, how important is the taxi system anyway? Any stories to share?

By John Deiner |  October 19, 2007; 10:03 AM ET  | Category:  John Deiner
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NY taxi drivers don't like the GPS either. We have had 2 short strikes already and another one planned for next Monday

Posted by: JAG | October 19, 2007 12:07 PM

Absolutely pro meters. It was about time. The only city in the world and it is the capital city of the United States, that does not use meters?!?!
In Turkey, a cab driver tried to tell us that his meter was broken and he was going to charge $3 mil lira (this was a few years ago) for the trip. We refused to take his cab, and suddenly his meter was working. The ride cost $1.5 mil--yes half. Without meters, you are at the mercy of a cab driver's whim.

Posted by: DB | October 19, 2007 2:12 PM

Paying the cab fare with a debit or credit card will provide a much better receipt, reduce the need to carry lots of cash, and cut the amount of robberies (your receipts or your life!). The zone system has much to recommend it, but unfortunately the world moved in a different direction years ago and zones are now an anachronism.

Posted by: Folgers | October 19, 2007 5:05 PM

do you know how hard it is to find a cab in DC that will take a card? Finally!!

Posted by: credit card! | October 20, 2007 8:51 AM

I use cabs only as a LAST resort. I much prefer using subways, buses, etc. or my own two feet to get me from point A to point B. I do think the metered version is a little better. My little town actually uses both. The cabs are metered, but they also have zones. This increases the amount of the total fee, depending on which zone the dispatcher tells the driver to set it at.

Posted by: rja | October 22, 2007 1:51 AM

In Boston, where I live, people don't seem to use cabs as often as people in other cities do. I suspect part of the reason is that our cabs are very expensive--and Boston is a very walkable city. But during a visit to Philadelphia recently I experienced the credit card device in their taxis and I was thrilled. I almost never have cash in my wallet; I use my debit card or a credit card for everything. I find it annoying to have to guess how much a cab ride will cost (especially difficult in a strange city when you don't know where you're going, how far it is, etc) and then go get cash. Most of the time I end up getting much more cash than I need, just in case. In any event, the credit card readers in the taxis were great, and you can put the tip on the card, too. I wish we had them in Boston!

Posted by: mibsphil | October 22, 2007 3:41 PM

Meters in taxis cannot get here fast enough. If Mayor Fenty is able to drag DC taxis, screaming and kicking all the way, into the 21st century, he will become my new hero.

I will do almost anything to avoid using a DC taxi. The few times I have used a taxi in the district, I wondered how the vehicle passed any safety inspection once I got over the filth. The drivers were surly at best. As for the fare -- well, I suspect throwing a dart at a map for calculation purposes is similar to the zone system.

I cannot imagine what it must be like for visitors to our region and/or for those who speak English as a second or third language.

I have visited many cities both here and abroad, and the zone system used by the District is the most absurd that I have encountered.

Posted by: Cathy | October 23, 2007 10:14 AM

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