In a rare show of unity, the D.C. Taxicab Commission's rate panel reversed itself yesterday and agreed to reconsider proposals for a temporary increase in taxi fares, vowing to seek a remedy for legal problems that have blocked an interim pay raise for the city's hackers.

The embattled five-member panel voted unanimously to reopen debate on proposed fare increases by calling a special session for next week. However, panel members remained sharply divided over the kind of fare increase they should adopt.

A three-member panel majority that has dominated the rate proceedings since July said yesterday that it would continue to try to push through a flat fare increase of 40 cents a ride that was ruled invalid Monday by D.C. Corporation Counsel Frederick D. Cooke Jr.

Commission Chairman Arrington Dixon and a fifth panel member, Yale Lewis, favor an alternative proposal for a 19.5 percent raise based on the city's taxi zones. That proposal, requested by groups of cab owners and drivers, was rejected earlier by the panel majority, who substituted the 40-cent increase.

Yesterday's action reversed a vote taken Tuesday when three panelists rejected a plea by a coalition of owners and drivers to reconsider the panel's support for the 40-cent measure, which critics said ignored testimony and commission staff recommendations favoring the larger, zoned fare raise.

Those three members -- Joseph Becker, John Jessamy and Lucille Johnson -- changed their minds yesterday after complaining that they had not been told that their vote effectively prevented a fare raise of any kind.

Dan Smith, a prominent taxi company owner and organizer of the Joint Industry Group, which is pressing for the 19.5 percent increase, said yesterday after the panel's reversal that owners had put on hold plans to file suit against the commission.

"Hopefully, we're back on track," Smith said. "We've got a long ways to go. But we're very thankful for what they {panel members} have done."

It was unclear how long an interim raise might be delayed. The fare increase was proposed as a temporary measure to offset rising costs of taxi operations as well as an increase in driver liability insurance rates scheduled for June that are expected to cost operators about $60 a month each.

Cooke found the 40-cent raise invalid on grounds that the panel had used flawed procedures that failed to give adequate weight to the proposal for a larger increase.

In another about-face, the panel agreed yesterday to open its scheduled work session to the public after voting previously to hold the meeting in private. Panelist Becker, who has tried to prevent media coverage of the panel, cited remarks by Mayor Marion Barry on a radio talk show last week in which the mayor discouraged private meetings by government agencies.