Taxicab Commission approves proposal to raise D.C. taxi fares


Taxi drivers Larry Frankel, background, and Nathan Price, left, could improve their incomes under rate hikes proposed by the D.C. Taxicab Commission on Tuesday. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)
December 13, 2011

The D.C. Taxicab Commission approved a proposal Tuesday to increase cab fares in the District as well as to introduce a credit-card payment option by fall 2012.

Under the proposed changes, the “drop rate” — the base fare that passengers are charged at the beginning of a cab ride — would remain $3, but the per-mile rate would jump from $1.50 to $2.16.

The wait-time rate would increase from $15 to $25 an hour. Several additional fees — for luggage, additional passengers, pets, emergency fuel surcharge and personal service — would be eliminated.

These changes, which Chairman Ron Linton described as “reasonable,” were outlined in a 20-page report issued by the commission. By approving the proposal, the commission effectively opened a 30-day written-comment period that will begin Dec. 23, when the proposal will be published in the D.C. Register.

Linton said the commission will devote the entire public-comment portion of its Jan. 11 meeting to the proposal. Although the commission will not vote again, feedback from the public could lead to further changes, Linton said.

“I am happy that no one has assaulted me,” Linton said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, acknowledging the controversial nature of the proposed increase. Although it may be more than many riders want to pay, it’s 59 cents less than cabdrivers had requested.

The proposed fare increase “would improve drivers’ revenue while not adversely affecting the riding public,” according to the commission’s report.

A fare increase has been a long-standing wish of the taxi industry, dating to then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s imposition of meters in 2008, leading to what some drivers said was a 30 percent or more drop in income over the old zone system.

Fenty (D) and his Taxicab Commission appointees largely ignored concerns about low fares, which led a coalition of drivers and cab company owners to vigorously back Gray in the 2010 mayoral elections. Industry representatives have indicated that Gray pledged to fire the Fenty-appointed chairman of the commission and institute a fuel surcharge to raise incomes for drivers of the city’s more than 5,000 cabs.

But it is less clear whether the Taxi Commission will address other driver complaints, including accusations of overly zealous and arbitrary cab inspections. Tuesday’s proposal indicates that the commission is interested in responding to concerns from the hospitality industry as well as the public about newer cabs and more amenities — including mandatory credit-card readers in every cab.

Linton said that although there is “not a lot of hard data,” the commission estimates that drivers’ income dropped 20 to 30 percent when the zone system was replaced by meters in April 2008. Linton said the commission did not account for the recession or new unemployment rates in the calculation.

“That would assume a drop-off in ridership,” Linton said. “I don’t believe we’ve had that. There are still a lot of people downtown who want to get around.”

Still, a persistent public aversion to a fare increase remains.

“It’s already too expensive,” said Nydia Gutierrez, a graduate student at George Mason University, who added that she takes a cab nearly every day. “The increase is too much.”

Barbara Lang, the president and chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, was vocal in her concern about the original proposed fare increase but said she was satisfied with the commission’s decision.

“It’s less of a cost increase than was originally proposed, and it’s tied to significant, meaningful improvements in service and safety to passengers,” she said in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon.

The first of these service improvements, Linton said, is to modernize the fleet by phasing out older, higher-mileage vehicles.

But the big item on the commission’s 2012 agenda is to implement a cash-free meter system that will allow riders to pay with credit and debit cards, as well as a Global Positioning System for drivers. Linton said he expects to put out a request for proposals in January and to have these upgrades in the cabs by next fall.

“We collected as much data as we could. We talked to people, we listened to people and we came up with something rational,” Linton said. “Is it perfect? No. Will it be? Yes.”

People interested in speaking during the public-comment portion of the meeting Jan. 11 can register by calling the Taxi Commission office at 202-645-6018.

Staff writer Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

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