Cabbies Told to Install Meters by May 1

By David Nakamura and Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The city expects taxicab drivers to install meters by May 1, said D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, but it will waive the $1,000 fine for driving without a meter during a one-month grace period.

A day after the city won a key court ruling that clears the way for the time and distance meters to replace the long-standing zone system, Fenty (D) said drivers who do not obey the rules could have their licenses suspended or revoked.

Beginning May 1, city inspectors and D.C. police will spot-check taxicabs and issue warnings until June 1, after which fines will be assessed to those without time and distance meters.

"From now until June 1 is more than enough time to get meters installed," Fenty said at a news conference outside the D.C. Taxicab Commission's office in Southeast.

A lawyer for the drivers has said they will appeal Superior Court Judge Brook Hedge's ruling that Fenty has the legal power to order the change. The drivers argued that the mayor overstepped his authority.

But interim D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said the city will oppose any request from the drivers to stay Fenty's order. The meters cost $300 to $500, and Nickles said that 10 firms are licensed to install them.

Yesterday, cab drivers were lined up at one of those firms, District Cab on Benning Road in Northeast. Ajab Abdus-Samad, who has been driving since 1968, has an appointment next month to get his meter.

Linroy Hanson, who's been driving for 32 years, said he would comply with the law. "I have to obey the law," he said.

Others, however, were less sanguine about the change. Some of the more than 6,500 drivers have threatened to strike, while cab companies struggle to meet the deadline.

Yellow Cab has 600 cabs, but the company won't be finished installing meters until it receives licensing approval from the city to convert existing meters, which are equipped to measure zones, in about half of its fleet, officials said. The company will have to modify them to measure time and distance. The other half of the fleet will get new meters once they arrive, said Roy D. Spooner, the company's general manager.

"The June 1 deadline is pushing it," Spooner said. He said that the installation process, though cumbersome, is not his biggest concern.

"My biggest issue is what service we will be providing customers between May 1 and May 31," he said.

It remains unclear whether a two-tier fare structure will be in effect for the month. Asked what passengers should do if they get in a cab after May 1 and are charged a zone rate because no meter has been installed, Fenty suggested that riders report the driver's name, company and license plate number to the Taxicab Commission at 202-645-6018 or Pressed further to explain whether passengers should take another cab or refuse to pay the zone rate, Fenty and Nickles said riders should report the driver, but that the general confusion over which pay scheme will be used should be short-lived.

"There may be some difficulty, but we hope to make that very short," Nickles said. "We hope there won't be confusion."

Dawit Dagnew, an independent driver, said he supports the new system, but he said drivers should have been more involved in how the new rates were structured. The base rate for any trip is $3, plus 25 cents for each one-sixth of a mile. Drivers would be allowed to charge $1.50 for each additional rider.

William Hanbury, president of the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp., hailed Fenty's actions, saying the new metered system is the "transparency that is demanded by consumers. . . . Every city we compete with for tourism has a sophisticated cab system like this."

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