Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have always been a fan of your articles. They are insightful and thought-provoking. But there is one subject that I do not remember reading about.

If I am dropping someone off at Dulles International Airport, I know that I can cruise all the way to the airport on the Dulles Access Road without thinking twice about getting a ticket.

My question: Am I allowed to use the Dulles Access Road after I drop someone off in order to get back to the Capital Beltway, or do I have to take the Dulles Toll Road and pay the tolls?

Bernard Bundy Jr.

Alexandria

You can use the Dulles Access Road going to or from the airport. It might help if you keep a copy of a flight itinerary or passenger receipt in case you are stopped, but police can usually tell whether you have been to the airport by the way you answer their questions.

Blue Lights Special?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I live in Northern Virginia and drive into the District for work. On a number of occasions lately, I have seen individual Metropolitan Police Department cars running their blue lights without their sirens.

A few times, I have pulled over to let them by, but they are almost never driving faster than usual and in fact don't seem to be in any hurry at all (they wait in line at a red light like other cars, for example).

What's up with that? Am I still required to pull over and make way for them when I see them? Or is there just some new policy that has them running their blue lights even when they're just tooling around town -- a policy that doesn't require me to get out of the way?

Rebecca Davis-Nord

Springfield

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey noticed that Israeli police used their emergency lights just to let citizens know that police were around. So a couple of years ago, Ramsey directed cruisers on patrol to display flashing blue lights.

You don't have to pull over for them, according to police spokesman Quintin Peterson. You need to pull over only if you hear a siren.

That seems confusing to me. I can see why you'd be puzzled, Ms. Davis-Nord.

Ditch the Zone System

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

While the taxicab zone system may work for well-informed, well-prepared regular riders like Sharon Buck [Dr. Gridlock, Nov. 10], it does not work for occasional riders like me. Nor does it work for the friends and family members who have visited us. I imagine it doesn't work well for tourists, either.

Because I don't always know when I'm going to want to take a cab, I can't be prepared with a printout. I've lived here 15 years, and I still find the zone maps in the cabs difficult to interpret.

Even on routes I regularly take, I have been charged a variety of prices. The fare from my house to Reagan National Airport ranges from $14 to $25. Even with the handout that riders receive while waiting in the cab line at the airport, I've never won an argument about that fare.

I hate having to prepare myself for an argument every time I get into a cab.

When out-of-town visitors take cabs to our house, I regularly find that they have been overcharged, even if we've told them beforehand what the fare should be.

When you get ripped off by a cabdriver the moment you step off the plane, it doesn't make you feel good about the city. Tourism is an important business in this city; we need a meter system that is fair and understandable to visitors and residents.

I've also had cabdrivers refuse to drive me somewhere because it's a long drive for a lower fare. They're not supposed to do that, but they do. I've sent complaints, with the driver's name and license number, to the D.C. Taxicab Commission, but have never received a response.

While I believe that most cabdrivers are honest and not trying to take advantage, the zone system is too confusing and prone to abuse. It needs to go.

Anne-Marie Bairstow

Washington

Your assertion is right: "I hate having to prepare myself for an argument every time I get into a cab."

You shouldn't have to live that way -- and get overcharged to boot.

I appeared at a Ward Circle AARP meeting in upper Northwest last week and found few defenders of the zone system. Several in the audience theorized that metered cabs would charge them less than zoned-fare cabs, because the trips cross so many zone lines.

I ask this question: Do any of you know of anywhere else in the world that has a zoned-fare taxicab system like the one used in the District?

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in The Extra and Sunday in the Metro section. You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.