DISTRICT residents are all too familiar with the kind of cabdriver who deserves to pay a heavy fine for various hacker violations. Most of the city's cabdrivers are reasonable people who operate within the rules. But the D.C. Taxicab Commission's past efforts to penalize incompetent and/or illegal hackers or to force them into compliance haven't been terribly successful. Even now, for example, there is only one city hack inspector (working days, no nights) for every 773 licensed cabdrivers in the District. Also, too few people actually follow through on the citizen complaint process and show up for the required hearing; all such complaints are dismissed. Finally, the defined violations have covered too little ground, while the fines for some that do exist have been so low as to be meaningless.

Now the commission is adding new violations and increasing fines. Riders should take notice and file complaints as they become aware of serious hacker violations: the fines are now worth the time and effort involved in attending complaint hearings.

The cost of refusing a fare is now $250, up from $100. Dirty cabs were not on the old violations list. Now, there is a $50 fine. The fine for failing to display an identification card has been doubled, to $50, as have fines for improper use of "on call" and "off duty" signs (now $100). Cabbies who lack proper insurance now face the same penalty as those who don't have identification cards, a $500 fine. Before, there was no sanction at all for not displaying a Cab Commission vehicle license. Now, there is a fine of $100. Bare minimum fines for a host of other infractions have also been raised from $5 to $25.

The head of the D.C. Cab Commission, Carrolena M. Key, says the new penalties "will go a long way toward ridding the District of unlicensed hackers, unkempt drivers and dirty cabs." That may well be an overstatement, given the small number of city hack inspectors, but the commission was right to toughen its sanctions. This is also a situation in which citizens can now have a greater impact on the quality of cab service.