Cabbies Slow to Install Meters On First Day of the Program

By Sopan Joshi and Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 2, 2008

Mark Furstenberg took a taxi yesterday morning from his home in Kalorama to Union Station, "the first time in a long, long while" that he ventured around town in a cab.

He shunned the Metro and took the taxi for one reason only: The introduction of taxi meters, which he called a "fundamental change in life" for residents.

"I take the cab in other cities but never in the District," said the professional baker, paying the $10.50 fare on the meter and noting that it would have been "much higher" under zones. "I will now."

Yesterday was the official start date for drivers to install meters and stop charging by zones traveled. Through the end of the month, drivers without meters will get warning tickets. After that, they can be fined $1,000. Many drivers have delayed installing meters, hoping that the new fare system would be blocked in a legal challenge. But the court has upheld the authority of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to order the change and refused to delay the start.

All this means that until June 1, there will be two parallel systems for charging passengers: Cabbies will calculate fares by meters if they have one, zones if they don't. The meter fare starts at $3 and goes up 25 cents for each sixth of a mile, to a maximum $19 within the District.

But resistance remains strong. Even some drivers who have meters installed said yesterday that they would continue to charge by the zone map until June 1.

Meter use was scarce. Of 100 cabs outside Union Station yesterday morning, 20 had meters. Only two of 15 cabs parked outside the Mayflower Hotel had meters on the dashboards. Of the 30 cabs driving by the hotel on Connecticut Avenue NW, four had meters. The situation appeared the same elsewhere in the city, with most cabs still plying the streets without meters.

Drivers have been grumbling for months about the switch to time-and-distance meters. They fear they'll make less money than under the zone system.

"Ask the mayor a question on my behalf," said Baldev Singh, who owns the cab he drives and has not had a meter installed. "Would he and his staff be willing to work with a 50 percent salary cut?" He said he wasn't opposed to meters but to the rates, which he considers too low.

"These meter rates will drive out independent cab owners and lead to cab companies taking over," said Anthony Adigun, a driver waiting in line at Union Station in his vehicle, which had no meter.

Complaints of looming economic hardship were common.

Adewale B. Aregbesola, who has a meter, whipped out a calculator to assess how his income will be hit. Under zones, he said, a 30-mile trip outside the District earned him $56.35; with meters, $48.50.

"That's a loss of $7.85," he said. "This is with the gasoline prices rising, and my cab requires premium gas."

Anthony Curtis, who has driven a cab in the District for half of his 70 years, said he thinks the rates are unreasonable.

"With these new meters, the only way a driver can make better money is when he is stuck in a traffic jam," he said. "Just yesterday, I took a longer route to avoid backup. With these rates, drivers will want to be stuck in a jam."

Several drivers complained about having to shoulder the full cost.

"I don't have the money yet," said John Akinboye, referring to the roughly $400 cost of a time-and-distance meter.

Sitting in a line of cabs outside the Mayflower, Akinboye, like other drivers, fretted about the change. "How we are going to survive, I don't know," he said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company