Taxicab rates are rising significantly across the Washington region as local government officials allow cabdrivers to pass on higher gasoline costs to consumers.
With the Arlington County Board's approval Saturday of a 50-cent surcharge for all taxicab rides, each major jurisdiction in the D.C. area has approved a fare increase in recent weeks.
Some of the higher charges may be temporary, and some won't go into effect for several weeks, but the bottom line is the same:
No matter where you live, you're going to pay more for a cab.
"Both the drivers and the passengers are complaining" about a 50-cent increase in the basic charge in Alexandria, Yellow Cab dispatcher Henry Aryeetey said yesterday. "The passengers say it's too much. The drivers say it's too low. Everybody's grumbling."
Senior citizens and others who depend heavily on cabs are particularly concerned. "I'll have to give it some thought" before calling a cab beginning Jan. 9, when rates will rise as much as 22 percent in the District, said John Bird, who lives at the Harvest House retirement residence in Northeast Washington.
The smallest taxi fare increase approved recently by a major jurisdiction is in Fairfax County, where the basic charge for the first one-sixth of a mile rose 40 cents, to $1.60.
Prince George's added a $1 surcharge to fares exceeding $10 and 50 cents to those that are less than that amount. D.C. drivers will receive a higher fuel surcharge plus increases for crossing zone boundaries. Some cab fares in Prince William County will rise about 25 percent.
Area taxi company representatives say the rapid escalation of international oil prices that followed Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait forced the fare increases, and the local taxicab commissions and local governments that set cab charges generally have agreed.
Beyond that, the cab firms say thousands of Washington area residents have had something of a free ride for several months. The higher cost of gas has been coming out of the pockets of the cabdrivers in many localities since the Persian Gulf crisis began, taxi spokesmen say.
"They were eating it. They were losing money," said Dave Buck, a manager of the Montgomery County-based Barwood Cab Co. Last week's action by Montgomery officials to add a 50-cent surcharge to each cab ride doesn't let drivers recover from four months of drastically reduced take-home pay, Buck said.
Many Washington area cabdrivers affiliated with taxi companies own their cabs and pay for their fuel, repairs and insurance. In addition, they must pay the cab firm a standard fee for the company affiliation.
Meanwhile, gas prices have continued to rise this month, largely because of a nickel-a-gallon increase in the federal gas tax. The American Automobile Association said the average price of a gallon of unleaded gas exceeded $1.43 last week in the Washington area. Nationally, the AAA reported, the average was almost $1.39.
People who turn to public transit have yet to bear fare increases attributed to the Middle East crisis.
Higher fuel costs are among several factors being cited by Metro officials as they consider seeking annual fare increases of 5 percent, beginning next summer.