Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to Phil Catelinet's concerns about inconsistent taxi fares in the city (Dr. Gridlock, June 28), I would like to offer this guide to understanding Washington's fare system: (1) Inspect the map in the clear plastic pocket of every (legitimate) taxi; (2) find the roads that mark the zones; (3) pay attention during your trip and see if you cross any of the roads on the map; (4) find the sticker on the back window that explains how much it costs to cross the roads; and (5) if this method fails, ask the driver how he came up with the fare.

ELIZABETH KNEE

Washington

Zone System Hindered by Bad Maps

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a professional graphic designer, I would like to say the existing zone map in D.C. taxicabs is one of the worst-designed informational diagrams I have ever seen, much less tried to read and get information from.

A good starting point for a new zone map design would be to identify more main streets, color-code each zone, orient the map so north is up and have large text explaining when the fare changes. These changes would help me understand the fare given by the cab driver.

ROBERT WENTE

Washington

Charges Are Inconsistent

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You must be joking! What do we think about the current zone fare structure with D.C. cabs? It is an embarrassment as well as a rip-off.

We had a guest from California visit George Washington University, and we then scheduled some discussions at Children's Hospital--a trip we know to be about $6.

Our guest was charged $20 for each of the two trips--and by two different cabbies.

What does this do to encourage tourism here?

Compared with Maryland, Virginia--even New York City--D.C. cabs are unprofessional, run-down and inadequate. Not only should meters be placed in each cab, but drivers and vehicles need more oversight.

FRED ABRAMSON

Washington

Zone System Works

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a resident of the District for 20 years, I have been riding cabs twice a day, five days a week. Unlike your reader, Mr. Catelinet, I am totally in favor of keeping the zone system. With meters, I can foresee many cab drivers using the farthest route possible to my destination.

I don't understand how Mr. Catelinet could be confused about zone rates when these rates, along with maps, are required to be posted in every D.C. taxicab.

The zone system works, and most cab drivers in the District will testify to that fact.

JUDY L. HARRIS

Washington

Based on Dr. Gridlock's mail, taxicab users favor a change to meters by a small margin. The matter will be put before the D.C. Council Committee on Public Works and the Environment in the fall. If there isn't a clear emphasis to convert, then perhaps we could do a test involving cabs in one zone, or one taxicab company, to see whether meters are better.

I think the fare system we have now is too confusing, with the meter system giving me a better sense of what a trip will cost.

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

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Wednesday in Prince William Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail 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.