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Fenty to Start Taxi Meter at $3 for All
Drivers Vow Rolling Strike Amid Cuts in Rush Hour, Snow Premiums

By Joshua Zumbrun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008

District cab fares will be lower than first proposed under the new metered taxi system, the rush-hour surcharge will be eliminated, and the snow emergency rate will drop from double the fare to 25 percent, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced yesterday.

The base rate for any trip will be $3, and once in the cab, passengers will pay 25 cents for each one-sixth of a mile. The meter will start on the second one-sixth of a mile, and passengers will be charged 25 cents for each minute stopped in traffic or traveling slower than 10 miles per hour. The additional passenger surcharge will also be eliminated. The new rates go into effect April 6.

"I think this will meet the needs of the drivers and also the riding public," Fenty said.

But those rates have angered drivers enough that they announced plans for another strike yesterday, this one longer than the fall's Halloween strike.

William J. Wright, president of the Taxicab Industry Group, which organized the Halloween strike said drivers will be encouraged to strike one day a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. beginning Monday, Feb. 4 to protest the change. The strike will rotate through the days of the week -- the next week drivers will strike on a Tuesday, then a Wednesday, and so on -- until at least the start of baseball season, Wright said. The goal, he said, is to get the city to change its plan.

"What's better? Losing money one day a week or losing our jobs?" Wright said.

When rates were first suggested in November, the base rate was proposed at $4, with the surcharges for additional passengers and rush hour still in place. The per-mile and per-minute rates are unchanged from the November proposal.

Fenty, who announced the changes at the Taxi Cab Commission in Southeast, said the lowered fares were a reaction to almost 2,100 comments from individuals and organizations solicited during a 60-day request for comment. The deadline for those comments was Jan. 8. Fenty said that 77 percent of those commenting supported a switch to meters, and that about 1,500 said the proposed $4 base rate was too high.

"I think it's fantastic. This is exactly the kind of leadership the mayor should show. He's showing that he's standing up for the residents of the city," said James Mann, 28, a resident of Dupont Circle who helped organize a petition and e-mail campaign to lower rates.

But drivers said the lowered prices would damage the commercial viability of the city's 6,000 cabs.

Stanley Tapscott, a longtime driver and member of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, questioned the support Fenty reported for meters. In December, Tapscott and other drivers conducted their own surveys and found support was high for the city to consider an alternative "zone meter" system.

Under the zone meter, the existing zones would be used, but a Global Positioning System device would instantly calculate the fares and print a receipt, making the system transparent to passengers. The zone meter is favored by some drivers seeking a compromise and has won vocal support from D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).

"The zone system is good, but people think they're being cheated. The GPS zone-meter solves that," said Fasil Demissie, a driver for 13 years, who plans to support the strike. Demissie says that almost everyone he's talked to in the large Ethiopian cabdriver community also wants the mayor to take another look at zone meters.

"We absolutely support the drivers' right to strike," said Roy Spooner Sr., general manager of Yellow Cab, the largest independent cab operator in the city, with about 600 drivers. "What the mayor proposed is taking money out of their pockets and affecting service in the city long term," he said.

Reducing fares will force drivers out of business and shrink the pool of available cabs, Spooner said.

The city's meter system also will prevent drivers from picking up additional passengers along the way. "The technology does not exist to reset the meter and maintain two passengers," said Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon J. Swain Jr. This change will also make it harder for passengers to get cabs, Spooner said.

It will be the drivers' responsibility to pay for the meters, which will cost about $300 per cab, Swain said. Strike organizer Wright disputed that figure, saying that meters could cost drivers as much as $1,000 to install.

"We want the world to know we will fight this," Wright said.

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