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Drivers Say Low Rates Make Meters a Burden

Washington, D.C. cab drivers discuss the switch from zoned fares to meters.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008; Page B04

It's not the new little box on their dashboards that has many of the District's more than 6,000 cabdrivers still fuming over being forced to abandon zone-based fares. It's the rate at which those time-and-distance meters click away.

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"It's good for passengers and drivers instead of the complicated zone system," said Hussein Abafogi, 44, as he worked on a passenger manifest, parked in his gleaming Lincoln Town Car cab on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The car bore the sticker that many cabs now sport: "Certified Metered Taxi Cab."

"But the mayor is not doing a reasonable price," he added. "When you compare to Maryland and Virginia, it's hurtful to us."

The decades-long fight over how D.C. cabdrivers charge passengers ended this week. Since Sunday, it has been illegal for drivers to charge under the old zone system. They risk a $1,000 fine if they don't have active meters installed.

In the first three days the law was in effect, about a dozen drivers were cited and fined.

"It's working out rather well," Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon J. Swain Jr. said after being out over the weekend with inspectors and police officers looking for noncompliant drivers. "We've done a yeoman's job of getting [the meters] installed. I was highly impressed by the number of vehicles that were legal.

"We're now in a period where the citizen and the cabdriver have to get used to each other," he said.

The city's cabbies had long resisted the move away from fares based on travel between 23 geographic zones, insisting that they would lose income and that many passengers would be discouraged from taking cabs if they did not know in advance how much a ride would cost.

In the new system, some longer trips earn drivers more money, but many trips, especially those going out of the District, bring in less than before. And rates are lower than those in some neighboring communities as well as other big cities.

Drivers have spent as much as $500 for the meters, and many said their incomes have declined 20 to 50 percent since the switch.

"Most of them are extremely angry, extremely stressed out," said Nathan Price, a cabdriver who is chairman of the D.C. Coalition of Cab Drivers, Companies and Associations, which unsuccessfully sued the District to try to stop the switch.

Many cabdrivers, though disliking the change, are getting accustomed to the meters, which measure distance traveled and time increments when stopped in traffic.

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