D.C. Taxi Drivers Strike

Impact of Day-Long Meter Protest Is Unclear, but Cab Coalition Member Says It Won't Be the Last

People waiting for rides outside Union Station yesterday faced long waits and higher fares -- double the price of a taxi ride or more -- as limo drivers took the striking cabdrivers' place.
People waiting for rides outside Union Station yesterday faced long waits and higher fares -- double the price of a taxi ride or more -- as limo drivers took the striking cabdrivers' place. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 5, 2008; Page B01

D.C. cabdrivers upset about the impending switch from zones to meters yesterday launched the first in what might be a series of weekly strikes aimed at getting the attention of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the riding public.

The 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. strike left some early-morning passengers waiting outside Union Station and caused others to rethink their transportation plans. But hotels met the challenge with fleets of limousines and other hired cars, and officials reported that the strike caused few disruptions citywide. It was unclear how many drivers participated.

By late afternoon, taxis appeared plentiful downtown, and at Union Station, arriving passengers were met by such a stream of limousines that one person thought she had happened upon a black-tie affair. Some drivers demanded double the price of a taxi ride or more, leading to cross words from some people who refused to pay.

"What a vulture," said Jennifer Fitzpatrick, arriving from Baltimore, after a driver offered to take her to Chinatown for $20. "No way."

The strike, called by the newly formed Coalition of Cab Drivers, Companies and Associations of Washington, D.C., was the latest attempt to forestall a historic change in the way taxi fares are calculated in the city. For decades, the District has relied on a system of zones that many found confusing, but in October, Fenty (D) announced the April 6 switch to meters to bring the District in line with other major U.S. metropolitan areas. Since then, drivers opposed to the plan have held rallies and distributed leaflets. They staged a one-day strike in the fall.

Nathan Price, chairman of the coalition, described Fenty's plan yesterday as "either ill-conceived, or conceived very well to destroy the industry."

"We're trying to get the message out to the citizens, 'This is your system,' " Price said at a meeting at an Ethiopian church in Northeast attended by about 200 cabdrivers. "We asked last year, put it on a referendum. Don't let a small group of people decide this for everybody."

The coalition is considering more strikes. William J. Wright, president of the Taxicab Industry Group and a member of the coalition, said drivers will strike again next Tuesday, then on Wednesday the next week and so on. They also are considering striking next month during the opening of the new ballpark for the Washington Nationals, he said. But Price said the coalition board has not made a decision on what the next move will be.

The strike occurred on a rainy day, normally cause for high volume.

Liz DeBarros of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., said the strike was "definitely not a major disturbance. If it was, we'd be the first to know."

Dozens of limo drivers, hoping to make quick fares, showed up impromptu at Union Station. Not all were familiar with the zone fare structure, leading to some heated exchanges.

A passenger climbed in the back of a Mercedes sport-utility vehicle and agreed to pay $20 to get to the Capital Hilton. But when the driver invited other people waiting in line to get in, the initial passenger picked up his bags and left, telling the driver, "I'm not gonna let you piggyback."

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