William Wright, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Industry Group, which represents independent cabdrivers, opposes metered cabs.
"Although our critics have attempted to prove that meters are the answer to every problem that affects the taxicab industry, the facts simply do not support this view," Wright wrote in a letter to me titled, "Complaints of a Cab Driver." I had incorrectly written that he favored meters in a column two weeks ago.
"In a recent hearing before the D.C. City Council, we presented documents showing the shortcomings of cities with metered cabs. In Boston at the airport, you can't get a cab unless you are going to certain parts of the city and the record shows that they do overcharge.
"In all sections of this city you will find taxicabs hauling the sick, picking up fares of all races, never knowing if they are going to be paid at the end of the trip," Wright wrote. "Many an empty cab goes 20-25 blocks to pick up a fare who has called for a cab, only to be criticized by someone who is passed up while they render this service."
Wright maintains that cab service is improving, despite many letters I have received saying that it is not. Wright invites complainants to compare the District's cab system with the one in New York, or even the one in Alexandria.
"Some cab drivers in Alexandria won't even take you to Crystal City because they say the run is too short," Wright said. "It has nothing to do with meters. In every city, there will be runs that some cab drivers will not want to make. That's just the way it is. But it is better in Washington than in most places."
Wright cites a taxicab penalty bill passed by the D.C. City Council two years ago as part of the reason for the improvement he sees. Under city law, a cabdriver who refuses to transport a resident can be subject to a $300 fine.
"About $50,000 in fines were collected last year -- and the word is out," Wright said. "If a rider makes a complaint, and the driver does not show up for the hearing, the driver can still be fined $300."
Another city law, which requires prospective cabdrivers to take a course at the University of the District of Columbia and then take a test to get their license, does not appear to be working as well, Wright claims.
"The test that the driver must now take to get an ID to drive has little to do with whether a driver is capable of going to all sections of this city or understands the kind of service that the taxi industry is expected to provide," says Wright. Only about 5 percent of the prospective cabdrivers who take the test pass, and an increasing number of them are from other countries and have college degrees when they arrive in Washington.
Wright also believes that with metered cabs come limitations on the number of cabs that can operate. Those favoring meters on cabs also believe that the city could use fewer cabs, and would push to have the numbers reduced from about 7,000 to 3,000, he said.
Most of the cutbacks would occur among the independent drivers, who are represented by Wright, and not the cab companies, he said.
"Meters would mean the end of the cab system as we know it in the District, but the improvements that people are hoping for would not be the result," Wright said.
Wright sees independent cab driving as the hard-working man's means of making extra money. In this city, it is a job that many blacks have done to work their way through college or earn money for their children's education.
The cab system here is thought to be the only one in the country in which the majority of drivers are black. Thus Wright seeks to protect what is essentially a means of economic advancement within the black community. He has a lot at stake, and this puts a lot of pressure on those cabdrivers who are qualified and courteous to compensate for those who are not.