The cost of a taxi ride in the District goes up today.
The D.C. Taxicab Commission voted yesterday to charge an extra $1.50 a trip to help drivers cope with the escalating cost of gasoline. The surcharge is scheduled to run for 120 days.
"We felt like we needed to help the drivers meet the costs of operation," said Causton Toney, the commission's interim chairman. "It wasn't a difficult decision."
The commission voted to appoint an independent consultant to examine whether fares in the city should be raised permanently.
Cab companies in many suburban jurisdictions now tack on fuel surcharges. Montgomery County increased its surcharge from 50 cents to $1.50 a ride last week, and Prince William County supervisors approved a 75-cent surcharge and temporary fare increase this week.
Gas prices in the District are among the highest in the nation -- hitting an average of $3.34 a gallon yesterday for self-serve regular, up from $1.94 one year ago, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. It costs more than $50 to fill a 15-gallon tank, compared with $29.10 at this time a year ago, AAA said.
The commission faced criticism from cabbies for letting an earlier, $1-a-ride surcharge expire Sept. 2 -- right as gas prices in the District were climbing sharply. That surcharge was put in place in May, also because of gas costs, and had a four-month time limit. Since it expired, the average price has jumped 57 cents a gallon.
Longtime D.C. Taxicab Commission member Sandra Seegars said that she believes a permanent increase is coming. "We have to treat it like a business and pass some of the cost to the customers," she said. "We can't just put it all on the cabbies. I just hope the $1.50 is enough for the next 120 days. I hope the prices don't spike."
Dozens of drivers attended the commission's hearing yesterday, and many later expressed relief.
"We needed it. It never should have been taken off in the first place," said D.C. cabdriver Eric Weaver. "I'm glad the commission acted so quickly and made it effective so quickly."
The fare for a one-zone cab ride in the District is typically $5.50. With the surcharge, it goes to $7.
John T. Bugg, a cabbie since 1957, said he stayed off the road when the old surcharge expired. "After expenses, we make about $80 a day, and when they cut into that, I can't make a living," he said.
Weaver, who drives a Crown Victoria, said that the extra $1.50 a ride should help him keep up with fuel expenses. But other drivers weren't so certain.
Carolyn Robinson, who has been driving a taxi for 30 years, said she spends $50 to $60 day to fill her Chevy Lumina with premium gas, the type many drivers prefer. Before prices went up this summer, she was spending $30 to $40 daily. She estimated that the increased surcharge will cover about half of her added fuel costs.
"It's not going to be too much of a difference," Robinson said. "We were working at a deficit before the prices even went up. It forces us to work longer hours."
For such passengers as Michelle Jones, the extra charge is another burden.
"It seems like it's unfair, but I guess cabdrivers have to make a living, too," Jones, 41, said after hopping out of a cab on New York Avenue NW. "We're all suffering."