The D.C. Taxicab Commission recently passed a 40-cents-per-ride fare increase for the city's taxicab operators. Aside from its obvious inadequacy, it doesn't address one problem that a fare increase is supposed to solve.
A rider's foremost concern, especially for a rider who resides in the outlying sections of the city, is the availability of taxicabs. In the eastern districts of the city, cabs are hard to come by. Taxi drivers simply discriminate against these corridors and the people living along them. The reason is that trips originating in the large and highly traveled Zone 1 and ending anywhere south or east of the Federal Triangle are simply unprofitable runs for the driver to make. A substantive, across-the-board flat-rate increase or citywide zone boundary adjustment is the only remedy at the commission's disposal that will encourage drivers to frequent these areas. Taxi meters, most certainly an option, perhaps even the preferred one, would have to be approved by the D.C. Council.
Most drivers who hack in the more profitable zones between downtown, Georgetown and points west of Rock Creek Park already get tips of more than 40 cents from their riders. How, then, is the lure of 40 more cents going to encourage a driver to abandon these areas and travel from, say, 22nd and Pennsylvania Avenue NW to 19th Street and Benning Road NE, a trip that gets them a $3 fare? That trip takes nearly an hour through congested downtown traffic and is a distance of nearly seven miles. Seven miles on the interstate chart is $9.20. It is unrealistic to assume that such a small increase will correct such a huge disparity. There are hundreds of other examples of such inequities resulting from the zone map, all similarly uneconomical for the taxi driver.
If it is the intention of the commission to improve taxi service for those not getting it, then the commission must agree on a competent and responsible approach to the problem. Reportedly, the 40-cents-per-trip resolution was hatched right out of the clear blue sky. No empirical data supported the incremental increase, and there was no study of what kind of an impact it would have on the industry. It was proposed, voted on and passed in less than one day's time without benefit of even cosmetic review or evaluation. My niece's curbside lemonade business uses a more scientific method to determine price increases.
Commission Chairman Arrington Dixon, his staff and industry representative Yale Lewis developed data to support an across-the-board increase of 16 percent. This would certainly not eliminate the availability problem -- there are other well-publicized reasons for negligent taxi service in parts of the city -- yet it would have been a rate adjustment much closer to the stated objectives than the approved proposal.
The acrimonious bickering and fractious attempts at political one-upmanship among the members of the rate and rules panel have impaired the vision of the commission. The 3-to-2 majority on the panel has now taken on a life and an agenda of its own, exclusive of the real issues that plague the city's taxicab system.
Until such time as the mayor steps in and redirects the focus of the commission, the ship will continue to drift off course. A governmental body at war with itself produces no real winners. It does, however, produce some very definite losers. And in this case those losers are, and will continue to be, the growing ranks of frustrated persons unable to stop a cab, much less catch one.
-- Norman S. Saunders Jr. is a former member of the Hackers License and Appeals Board and the Hackers Training and Advisory Board.