Taxi Panel to Survey Residents on Meters vs. Zones

By Ashlee Clark
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

The D.C. Taxicab Commission will conduct a telephone poll to ask District residents whether taxis should switch from charging by zones to a metered system.

Leon J. Swain Jr., chairman of the commission, said yesterday that the survey will provide a better gauge of public sentiment on the contentious issue than a public hearing that was to have been held last night.

The scheduled hearing was canceled out of concern that the number of people attending could overwhelm the session. The meeting area in Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, which holds 250 people, might not have accommodated everyone who wanted to speak, Swain said. In previous meetings, more than 2,000 people have attended, he said.

"I just wanted to make sure that we provided a forum for the riding public," he said. "My paramount concern was that we heard from a lot of the citizens."

Under legislation Congress inserted in the D.C. budget bill last year, the District has until October to require meters in cabs. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) can overturn the provision by executive order, however. He has declined to give his opinion, awaiting a recommendation from the commission.

A study by George Washington University's School of Public Policy and Public Administration showed that short trips are cheaper with a meter but that longer trips are cheaper with a zone system.

The commission has started passing out written surveys to cabdrivers, hoping to reach more than 3,000 of them, Swain said.

Residents also can send comments to the commission through its Web site,

Bids from at least two companies are being considered, with polling set to begin late next week, Swain said. He declined to say how many callers will be polled.

Sandra Seegars, an advisory neighborhood commissioner and former D.C. taxicab commissioner, said she is organizing a community meeting for Aug. 10 at THEARC in Southeast Washington to discuss meters.

She said she plans to invite Fenty, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and U.S. Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), a critic of the current fare system.

Seegars said she considers meetings a better vehicle for assessing opinions than a telephone survey.

"We don't trust that," she said. "Surveys on the phone are bogus. We don't know who they're calling or if they're calling."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company