D.C. Cabs Told to Switch From Zone Fares to Meters

Taxicabs line up at Union Station. Some D.C. cabdrivers are threatening to strike over Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's decision to require the use of time-and-distance meters.
Taxicabs line up at Union Station. Some D.C. cabdrivers are threatening to strike over Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's decision to require the use of time-and-distance meters. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By Sue Anne Pressley Montes and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced yesterday that he will require time-and-distance meters in the District's 6,000 taxicabs, abandoning a rare zone system that has been used for decades and heralding major changes in the way the local taxi industry operates.

No timetable was set for the switch, and it was uncertain whose wallets will benefit most. That depends, a study showed, on the length of the trip. A meter system tends to favor the customer on shorter trips and the driver on longer ones.

It remained unclear how much the meters will cost the taxi industry to buy and install. Under the executive order Fenty signed yesterday, the mayor's office and the chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission are supposed to devise a plan for the change as quickly as possible. Sources with the mayor and the commission said officials hoped to have meters running by spring.

The zone system has been treasured by many drivers, who reacted to yesterday's news with outrage. They warned of a strike within two weeks and vowed to lobby to have the decision reversed.

Fenty (D) said he was most influenced by the views of D.C. residents, who said they wanted improvements in a system they found confusing and illogical. Making sense of the zone maps and keeping track of the zones traveled through can be a dizzying exercise, residents said.

"The residents of the District of Columbia have said they want clearly visible fares," Fenty said. "They want a sense that overcharging is not occurring, and they want a clearer relationship between a fare and the distance traveled."

That view was expressed by taxi customers interviewed yesterday, including Millie Davis of Lorton, who said, "They need to get current with technology."

The issue had been simmering for months as Fenty vowed to study the pros and cons of ditching the zone system, and cabdrivers' tension levels rose as the mayor's decision neared. Recently, several hundred drivers rallied at Freedom Square against a time-and-distance meter system, and debates raged on radio talk shows and in newspaper forums.

Fenty made his announcement yesterday at Alabama Avenue and Naylor Road SE, a location he said illustrated the inherent problems with the zone system: Each corner is in a different zone and represents a different fare.

The mayor acknowledged that he had considered the District's status as the only major U.S. city that did not use meters. Cab companies in suburban Maryland and Virginia operate on the meter system as do companies in Baltimore and Richmond.

Emily Durso, president of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., said the local hotel industry is "thrilled" by the decision. "It's not the only thing we can do to improve the taxi industry," she said, "but it's a very big step."

For years, the issue has stirred controversy, resurfacing every year or so for debate. But this time, Congress was applying the pressure. Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), a longtime critic of zones, attached a provision to legislation last fall requiring a decision on meters and setting a deadline. Fenty inherited the matter when he became mayor this year; instead of complaining about congressional interference, he has spoken about the need to finally address the subject in a careful way.

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