I am a 15-year veteran taxi driver in Washington and Arlington. I've read the articles and seen the TV spots that condemn the taxi system and the taxi drivers of Washington. But few offer solutions, as I hope to here. Let's look at some of the problems:
Overcharging. This is the passengers' most common complaint. Overcharging is a way of life for a high percentage of cabdrivers in D.C. because the zone system almost demands it.
Solution: Meters would eliminate most overcharging. Passengers would have the right to direct taxis in the direction they believe to be shortest or fastest. Meters can be sealed to prevent tampering, and heavy fines and jail terms could be imposed on any driver caught using an altered meter.
The refusal to carry passengers. The zones were drawn in such a way that they force cabs to travel many miles for just $2.10 or $3. Examples: A trip from Capitol Hill or Union Station to 22nd and Q streets is $2.10. The same fare with a meter used by taxis from Virginia would cost about $5; a trip originating at 2100 2nd Street SW to 34th and Klingle Street NW is $3, nearly 8 miles, and on a Virginia meter it would cost $10.40. The zones were set up to makeit possible for Congress and CapitolHill visitors to go from the Capitol to al-most anywhere in D.C. for $3 or less. Because of the zone system, people who live in Northeast and Southeast are discriminated against. The problem is financial, not racial.
Solution: Meters would make the fares to Northeast and Southeast profitable, which in turn would mean people coming from or going there would be picked up. Meters would make all fares equitable -- a fair ride for a fair fare!
Doubling of passengers. When a person wants a taxi, he is almost always in a hurry and does not want to be delayed by the driver's picking up other passengers. With the current rules, cabs may take on additional passengers who are traveling a common route not more than five blocks from the original passenger's destination. This rule was added so that cabs could compete somewhat with a metered fare. It doesn't work, but it can help.
Solution: Again, meters. With meters, everyone travels by himself from beginning to end.
Safety of passengers. The taxis in Washington are not safe, and neither are some of the drivers. Taxi safety is poor because the inspection stations allow many taxis to pass, even though they are not safe. Taxi drivers are not tested well enough either.
Solution: Taxis should be tested just as any passenger car. Someone needs to watch inspectors to make sure inspections are fair.
Drivers who don't speak English. Many drivers don't speak English well enough to communicate with passengers and should not be allowed to drive a taxi. But you'd be surprised by the number of drivers who really do speak English -- it's just not convenient for them to do so. By pretending not to speak English, they can either refuse to carry you or overcharge you. I can assure you that they will understand the words "Dulles Airport."
Solution: If a passenger suspects the driver doesn't speak English, he should get out of the cab.
Unlicensed drivers. There are many taxis on the street that are driven by people who don't have either a driver's license or a hacker's license.
Solution: We need police check points throughout Washington and at National Airport. Also, any passenger who gets into a D.C. taxi should check to see if the hack license matches the driver. If not, get out and report the cab number immediately.
Limitation on the number of taxis. In Washington, there are almost as many taxis as in New York City. There are so many taxis that drivers are forced to sit in hotel lines where there are sometimes 20 or 30 taxis in front of them. At National Airport, taxis line up 100 or more waiting for a fare, sometimes waiting for hours.
Solution: The number should be limited. That way, we increase the hourly intake.
If Washington allowed meters in taxis and also passed limitations on the number of taxis, there would have to be one other law: no one may own more than one license, certificate or medallion. Without this law, a couple of people would control the entire taxi industry, just as it is in Arlington.
The drivers of D.C. taxis must stay independent. If we can't have this rule along with the others, then we would prefer not having any of them.
-- Ray R. Fearson Jr.