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Taxis in Washington: Zone Defense

How much does it cost to take a taxi from the National Gallery of Art to the Jefferson Memorial, or from downtown to one of the airports? It may depend on which taxi you hail and where you board.

Sound confusing? The D.C. taxi system can be, even for local residents. Fares are calculated with curiously designed zone maps - not with meters. While such a system may have some benefits (i.e. no time surcharge in heavy traffic), it can also leave a passenger disoriented and vulnerable to overcharging. But informed consumers can make the zone system work for them. Here are some tips:

Do Your Homework

  • If possible, calculate your fare before you get into the taxi. Call the D.C. Taxicab Commission at (202) 645-6010 to learn the correct fare for your trip. (If you reach voice mail, press 0 and an employee should answer during business hours.) The commission will mail you a copy of the zone map and fare chart upon request.

  • Verify the fare with the driver before getting in the taxi.

  • Remember that the District is divided into four quadrants - Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast; tell the driver which one you are going to beforehand.

  • Carry small bills. Most drivers cannot make change for anything over $20.

  • All area taxis are required to post a taxicab zone map and the driver's photo ID; if you don't see these prominently displayed, hail another taxi. Note the company's name and the number of the taxi in case you need to file a complaint.

    Calculate Your Fare

  • Consult the D.C. taxicab zone map and note which zone you are starting from and going to. (Be careful - the map is not set on a straight north-south orientation.) For example, if you were to travel from the U.S. Capitol to the Kennedy Center, you would be going from Zone 1B to 2A.

  • Next, consult the grid below the map to calculate how many zones you have passed through.

  • Calculate your fare based on the number of zones you have traveled through by consulting the chart on the rear passenger side window.

  • Additional charges may apply. A rush hour surcharge will be added if you travel between 7 and 9:30 a.m. or 4 and 6:30 p.m. An extra $1.50 is charged for each additional passenger. Zone charges are doubled during snow emergencies. A luggage charge may apply on trips to and from the airport.

    Ways to Save

  • No matter how far you travel within a zone, the fares are the same. A favorite frugal trick is to bail out right before crossing a zone and walk the extra blocks to a destination. Frequently crossed zone boundaries in downtown D.C. include H Street NW and NE; U Street NW; Florida Ave. NW and NE; and 12th Street, NW.

  • If you're riding from the District to Maryland or Virginia, consider calling a Maryland or Virginia-based taxi company, that may offer lower fares to suburban destinations. Maryland and Virginia cabs cannot be hailed from D.C. streets (customers must call for pickup) and cannot make trips from one point in the city to another.

  • Warning: Forgetting to tip a deserving driver leads to bad karma. These drivers are not getting rich and they risk their lives on the job every day. The going rate is between ten percent and 15 percent - tip more for especially good service.

    -- Sheila Walsh

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