DR. GRIDLOCK

In the June 28 Dr. Gridlock column, reader Phil Catelinet complained that District cabs were charging anywhere from $5.50 to $8.80 between Georgetown and his residence on U Street NW, even at the same time of day. He asked for a status report on a conversion of cab fares from the current zone system to meters.

The matter is tentatively set to come before a D.C. Council committee hearing this fall, with a date to be determined. Meanwhile, Dr. Gridlock asked for your views on the subject. We've had so many responses we'll continue the subject in the next column.

There's One Drawback

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I always sigh in disbelief whenever I hear renewed clamoring for switching our taxis to a metered system. Yes, the zone system is confusing, but people don't seem to realize the major benefit: We don't pay for sitting in traffic.

Traffic in D.C. can be atrocious. If we switch to a metered system, we'll all be emptying our wallets as the meters keep adding fare while we're stopped in traffic.

I once had to take a two-mile taxi ride in Maryland. We hit morning rush hour traffic and got stuck at nearly every intersection. The resulting fare was $13. In D.C., it would have been $5 to $7 no matter what traffic conditions were like. Isn't that preferable?

Please, please don't lobby for a metered system.

Carey Cauthen

Washington

Customer Can't Win

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've taken many cabs from Georgetown to my home in Arlington and have been charged anywhere from $9 to $24.

It seems as if D.C. cabdrivers just make up fares. I've argued my fare many times, and even if I win, I'm frustrated.

The zone system is simply ridiculous.

Alexa Doroshenk

Arlington

Weary of the System

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The only time I've ever paid a D.C. cab fare that I knew to be accurate was when a Maryland cabdriver picked me up illegally in the city. His cab had a meter.

D.C. officials should get rid of the zone system as soon as possible and adopt meters. I'm really tired of getting ripped off.

Patrick Thibodeau

Washington

When Fare Isn't Fair

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I think the zone system encourages confusion and abuse and should be scrapped in favor of meters.

I live and work in the District and take cabs an average of two to three times a week. The most common trip is between my apartment near Dupont Circle and my office at 12th Street and Maryland Avenue SW.

Because these two points are at the opposite ends of Zone 1, I benefit from the zone system. But I see all the time how cabbies try to get the largest fares they can from Zone 1 passengers--even if it means being less than honest about which zones the trip began or ended in.

I have had cabbies argue that my office is not in Zone 1 (my employer confirmed it with the Taxicab Commission), and I have had cabbies refuse to pick me up at my apartment in Zone 1 when I told them I was only going to the opposite end of Zone 1.

The biggest problem with the zone system is that it is difficult for passengers to confirm they are being charged the correct fare.

The zone map posted in taxicabs is virtually impossible to read. It is difficult for residents--for tourists or business visitors, it's an impossibility.

So, even though it will probably mean I will pay more for meters, I think D.C. cabs should convert to them. Particularly for a city with so many visitors. It seems like the fairest system for all concerned.

Chuck Keller

Washington

The Book on Zones

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a regular cab rider for many years as well as a native Washingtonian, I am in favor of meters for D.C. cabs.

The current zone system penalizes those who take short inter-zone trips, and it favors those who take long intra-zone trips. The current system also allows too much room for drivers to rip off customers.

I have had so many arguments over the proper fare under the current zone system that it is ridiculous.

For example, I've had cabdrivers refuse to take me and instead dump me two blocks from my apartment when they found out my destination was within one zone. Or they've made my trip miserable by grumbling the whole way and then getting upset and calling me names when I wouldn't tip for their subpar service.

I even had a cabdriver who faked engine trouble to avoid a one-zone fare, which I discovered when I walked back to a taxi line and discovered him there.

On more than one occasion I've had a cabdriver pick me up, hear my destination, begin driving, tell me an incorrect fare, then when I've argued and pointed to the map, stop the cab and refuse to go any further.

Twice I've lived near a zone line, leading to countless arguments about the fare. I took to carrying the hacker's guide to plead my case and even that didn't always help. Plus, I got tired of carrying the book around. Why should I have to?

But, and this is a big but for me, if D.C. goes to the meter system, drivers should have to abide by the customers' directions since we will be paying for every minute. No more refusing to take Rock Creek Parkway from Washington Harbor to get to Van Ness Street.

I think the meter system would take away a lot of the problems.

Laura Ferrazzano

Washington

New Problems May Arrive

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

We've been riding cabs regularly in the District for 14 years. We've learned the fares for the trips we take most often. We've only rarely had a driver challenge us about the fare. Far more we've had drivers ask us what the fare should be.

Yes, there are drivers out there who take advantage of the zone system, but there will probably be more who will take advantage of meters to get higher fares.

It's true that the zone system is harder for tourists. But do tourists in New York City, where they have meters, really believe they are never cheated? I doubt it.

The cost of many trips is going to increase with meters, and many riders will be unable to afford cabs once they do. The poor and the elderly will suffer, but so will your reader, Phil Catelinet, who will most likely find that the system he thought would solve his problems has only brought him new ones.

Joanne Collings and Randy Mawer

Washington

Taken for a Ride

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When I asked a co-worker how much a cab ride was from my office at 15th and M streets NW to my apartment near Falls Church, my colleague said, "It depends when on whether the driver wants to rip you off."

I found the fare ranged from $12.50 to $25, same day of the week, same time, same route.

On the other hand, when I took a taxi from my home to my work, I knew the fare would be $18.40 because Falls Church taxis have meters.

As far as I'm concerned, the zone system is for the birds.

Amy E. Baggott

Falls Church

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and on Wednesday or Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or email him at drgridlock@washpost.com. The Doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.

Springfield Interchange Update

Until winter 2001:

* The Old Keene Mill Road (Route 644) ramp to southbound Interstate 95 will be closed for the construction of new ramps to both northbound and southbound I-95. VDOT has posted detour signs to send traffic south on Backlick Road for 2.5 miles to enter I-95 at Newington. Motorists also can take Rolling Road south, turn left on Alban Road and drive north for 1A miles until they see signs for I-95.

For updates on closures, check www.springfieldinterchange.com or call toll-free 1-877-959-5222 to reach VDOT information operators.

NOTE: Northbound I-95 traffic bound for Franconia or Old Keene Mill roads must take the new Exit 169A, turn left at the light at Loisdale Road and go north to Franconia Road. The old Exit 169B is no longer available.

SOURCE: Virginia Department of Transportation