The D.C. Public Service Commission voted yesterday to raise taxicab fares by about 22 percent across the board beginning March 24, the first fare increase since 1981.
The District's taxicab fares are based on zones. Under the new rates, passengers will pay from 40 cents more for a one-zone ride ($2.10 instead of $1.70) to $1.35 more for an eight-zone ride ($8.05 instead of $6.70).
Fares for extra passengers will increase from 75 cents per passenger to $1.25. The rush-hour charge will increase to $1 from 65 cents.
The three-member commission, which regulates cab fares and utility rates, voted unanimously for the increases, bringing the net revenue per hour for full-time taxicab drivers to an average of $7.81, up from $5.22.
The commission approved all but one of the increases proposed by the D.C. Office of the People's Counsel and the taxicab industry, a 10-cent increase for radio-dispatched fares. That rate remains 65 cents.
Howard C. Davenport, the commission's general counsel, said the proposed increase in radio-dispatched fares was rejected because "many elderly and handicapped people rely on that service and we didn't think we should burden that particular part of the public."
William J. Wright, chairman of the D.C. Taxi Industry Group, which represents more than 60 percent of D.C. cabs, hailed the decision yesterday, saying that he believes "both the industry and the public will benefit from the rate increases."
"As it stands now, cab drivers have not received an increase in over four years, and with the new increases drivers can afford to maintain their cabs."
Wright said that many of the veteran drivers who know the city routes better than the new drivers were becoming discouraged because of the stagnant rates.
"The good word is out . . . drivers now have some incentive to continue in the business. The passengers won't have to rely on the services of all new drivers," said Wright.
In recent months the riding public and the City Council have criticized the taxicab industry for drivers who are rude to passengers, refuse to travel to certain parts of the city and have trouble locating such well-known places as Union Station or the District Building.
Daniel Smith, head of the Eastern Cab Co., said he doubts the increases will bring about any change in the service people receive.
"As long as we are still on the zoning system where a passenger can ride for two blocks and pay $2.10 and another passenger can ride four miles for the same fare," said Smith, "you're going to get cabbies that will be partial."
Smith said cabdrivers depend on tips and will often choose to pick up passengers they believe will tip them. "A fare to Southeast may not tip and it is hard to get a return fare back into the city," he said.
"Even with the new increases we are still the lowest-paid cabdrivers in any city in the country," said Smith, who operates more than 1,000 cabs in the District, "and until we switch over to the meter system, then passengers will have to bear with their gripes."
For years the industry has tried to convince the PSC that the District's zone map creates an economic hardship on drivers. The PSC began reviewing the map in 1979 but has not reached an official conclusion.
Other efforts to improve cab service include a bill introduced last month by D.C. City Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) that would consolidate all responsibility for regulating and policing the taxicab industry under the PSC, which now only sets the cab rates.
Currently the PSC, the City Council, the mayor's office, the D.C. Hackers License Appeal Board, the police department and about six other agencies and departments share in regulating and policing the industry.