Fenty Sets $4 Minimum Fare in Switch to Cab Meters

By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty forged ahead yesterday with his plan to switch the District's 6,000 taxis from zones to meters by April 1, announcing a new fare system that starts with a $4 minimum and ticks up steadily according to distance traveled and time stuck in traffic.

Standing at the busy corner of 16th and U streets NW at midafternoon, Fenty (D) announced the minimum, or drop rate, which is substantially higher than what is charged in most U.S. cities. New York and Atlanta, for example, have drop rates of $2.50.

In addition, under the new system, passengers traveling during the morning and evening rush hours will be assessed a $1 surcharge, as they are at present, bringing the starting fare at peak hours to $5.

The first sixth of a mile will be free, but after that, every one-sixth of a mile will cost 25 cents. The fare also will jump a quarter for each minute a taxi is stopped in traffic or goes slower than 10 miles an hour.

According to a recent report that detailed what happened when 21 D.C. cabs were outfitted with meters from Oct. 1, 2005, to May 30, 2006, meter fares with a $4 drop rate were 97 cents higher on average than zone fares. A trip of less than a mile was $7 with meters, $8.03 with zones. For trips of two miles to just under three miles, the meter fare was $10.33 and the zone fare, $9.70.

The D.C. Taxicab Commission and the mayor's office will accept public comments on the regulations during the next 60 days, officials said. A spokesman for Fenty said the mayor might make changes to the regulations after hearing comments.

Under the zone system, the minimum a passenger pays is $6.50, not including peak charges, but that can cover a fairly lengthy trip if it is within one zone.

Fenty, who arrived at the news conference in a cab, quipped that the driver who brought him there favored meters. But the crowd of about 50 people who greeted him, many of them cabdrivers, clearly opposed the change, shouting, "No! No!" as he spoke. His announcement came on the heels of a 24-hour strike by cabdrivers who want to retain the zone system. It ended at 6 a.m. yesterday.

Many of the city's estimated 7,500 cabdrivers, who are overwhelmingly independent operators, consider meters a threat to their livelihoods. They predict that big taxi companies will be drawn to Washington and then pressure city officials to limit the number of licensed cabs.

"We appreciate everyone's position on this matter," Fenty said. "In a city like the District of Columbia, it's not strange to expect differing views. In running a city, a decision has to be made, and we have made a decision."

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who appeared with Fenty and Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon J. Swain Jr., said he will hold a public hearing "to ensure the public's engagement in these very important questions." Graham has oversight of the commission.

William J. Wright, president of the Taxicab Industry Group, who led the strike, said the announcements did nothing to curb drivers' determination to have the decision overturned. He said drivers will not try to get Fenty to reverse his decision but are urging members of Congress who support zones to take action.

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