At the worst possible time, as gas prices set records almost daily, D.C. cabdrivers can no longer charge an extra $1 to offset fuel costs.
The surcharge, added May 2 for a four-month period, expired at 12:01 a.m. yesterday after the city's Taxicab Commission failed to vote on extending it.
"They should have done something before it expired," cabbie Hubert Agim said as he waited for a fare outside the Madison hotel in downtown Washington last night. "It's not fair."
Causton Toney, interim chairman of the Taxicab Commission, said several factors led to the expiration. For one, he said, most of the panel's seven commissioners were on vacation in August, making it impossible to convene a meeting on the issue.
In addition, he said, the members did not anticipate, even in early August, that prices would spike the way they did.
"Who could have anticipated Hurricane Katrina?" he said. "It's an unfortunate set of circumstances. It's an extra sting."
Toney said the commission will meet Sept. 14 to consider renewing the surcharge and possibly increasing it. He said the surcharge could be imposed for six months to make up for lost revenue in September.
If approved, a surcharge probably would take effect Oct. 1.
Toney said the commission also plans to consider increasing other fees, including the $1 charged for customers who make a stop en route to their destination.
Commissioner Sandra Seegars criticized the panel last night, saying it should have considered imposing a permanent surcharge before this week.
"It wasn't done," she said. "Now we're running around like chickens with our heads cut. And the cabdrivers, most are angry. The commission is definitely wrong."
Cities including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and New Orleans have turned to surcharges to offset fuel costs.
In the District, gas averaged $3.05 a gallon yesterday, according to the Web site www.washingtondcgasprices.com, 17 cents more than the day before and a 74-cent increase over the past month.
D.C. cabbie Nigusse Fantaw said the price of gasoline "is incredible. It's going up every day, and we are losing money."
In the waning days of summer, he said, business is slow. He's running the air conditioner, cruising the streets, competing for fares and burning up gas.
Fantaw said the $1 surcharge generated about $10 to $20 a day.
Without it, he said, things are tougher.
"It's hurt us a lot, big time," he said.