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Reluctantly Accepting Deadhead Cabs

"Hot guy" Greg Wagner of Damascus, seen finishing the Boston Marathon, is somebody who knows what Children's Hospital can accomplish. (Family Photo)
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008; Page B03

The price of oil is falling faster than GM stock, so perhaps we needn't concern ourselves with things like, oh, saving gas. While you might have thought twice about filling up the land yacht back when high-test was going for close to five bucks a gallon, now that it's half that it's "Fill, baby, fill!"

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And yet what goes down must come up. We're still pumping up those liquefied dinosaurs faster then they can decompose.

It was with that sort of thing in mind that Arlington's Jim Dinegar had a thought: Why do we force so many taxicabs to deadhead?

"Deadhead" is a versatile word. As a noun, it means both a sunken log and a person evidencing an unhealthy obsession with Jerry Garcia's music. As a verb, it means to remove desiccated blooms from flowers and to return from a trip without cargo or passengers.

It's that last meaning that has been on Jim's mind. Not long ago, he wondered about those taxicabs that take you to the airport but can't take anyone back. That's roughly the case at most of our airports. Hail a taxi on the streets of D.C. for the long ride to Dulles International Airport, and after the cabbie has dropped you off, he's coming home alone. He's not allowed to pick up a passenger there.

That struck Jim as wasteful.

Well, said Rob Yingling, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Reagan National Airport and Dulles, that's not strictly true. Passengers may call for a taxi to come pick them up, but if they want to just hail a cab, there are rules. At Dulles, only Washington Flyer vehicles can take fares. At National, cabdrivers must have permits.

"We have set certain standards for taxicabs to operate there," said Rob. "Those standards are enforced through the permit system."

(A look at the regulations reveals that cabs operating out of National must have working air-conditioning, which shall be turned on "when the outside temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit and he or she is directed to do so by the dispatcher," and that drivers are required to "wear a shirt with a collar, long pants or skirt, and shoes [not sandals] and socks or stockings.")

The present system "has worked very well at both of our airports," Rob said.

The D.C. cabdrivers I spoke with agreed. They said that opening up airport runs to them would mean opening up regular runs to airport cabs. If District cabs could pick up in Virginia, then Virginia cabs would expect to be able to pick up in the District. That way lies competition, er, chaos.

Green: It's the New Black

I did see an eco-friendly effort recently in an unexpected place: the underground parking garage of a downtown office building. Right near the attendant's kiosk were seven spaces marked "Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Only." I was directed to park my Mini Cooper in one. As I got out, I felt as if I'd just personally saved a whale from extinction.


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