Judge Upholds Fenty's Right To Order Cab-Fare Change

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty favors time-and-distance meters because they will bring D.C. cabs in line with those in other big U.S. metropolitan areas.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty favors time-and-distance meters because they will bring D.C. cabs in line with those in other big U.S. metropolitan areas. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty won a significant court ruling yesterday in favor of his plan to require time-and-distance meters in all city cabs by May 1, while taxi drivers said they will continue their legal fight to keep the decades-old zone-fare system.

"This is a major victory for the mayor's point of view, no doubt about it," D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said after a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled against cabdrivers in a lawsuit they filed. They said Fenty (D) exceeded his power in ordering the change in the fare system, but Judge Brook Hedge disagreed.

"It affirms sweeping authority on the mayor's part," said Graham, chairman of the council's Committee on Public Works and the Environment, which has oversight of the taxi industry.

The drivers' attorney, Jeffrey B. O'Toole, said he will take the case to the D.C. Court of Appeals. He said he will also ask Hedge to issue a stay, preventing the city from scrapping the zone-fare system while the appeal is pending. O'Toole said he asked city officials yesterday to delay the meter plan during the appeal, but the D.C. attorney general's office declined to do so.

Still, the city's acting attorney general, Peter J. Nickles, has indicated that the District will be flexible about the May 1 deadline, given that most drivers held off on purchasing meters while awaiting yesterday's court ruling. The meters cost $300 to $500, and just six firms in the city are licensed to install them.

"We're elated that after all these months, since the mayor's directive last fall, that finally we are at a point where the new rules are going to become effective," Nickles said. But he would not commit to strict enforcement of the deadline, saying only that the city will "proceed in a way that makes sense."

He said that officials were working out details on how to deal with the May 1 start date and that Fenty will announce them today.

The mayor was in New York yesterday; his office referred questions on the ruling to the acting attorney general. "It's a solid victory for the city," Nickles declared.

"I was a little bit shocked when I first looked at it," cabbie Nathan Price said of Hedge's 24-page decision. Price, 64, a taxi driver in the District for 36 years and chairman of the drivers' coalition that filed the lawsuit, said the outcome left him "kind of despondent."

"I don't agree with the ruling," he said, "but at the same time you must respect it."

Price said many of the District's 6,500 to 7,000 cabbies worry that fares based on time and distance will be higher than the current flat rates based on geographic zones and that a price increase would cause a drop in ridership and force many independent owner-operators out of business.

"I've got people who ride, they've got just ordinary jobs," said William Wright, 84, a cabbie in the District since 1943. "They ride the same place every day, and they can afford to ride, because they know what the fare is. . . ."

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