WASHINGTON'S cabdrivers -- the good, the bad and the insufficiently policed -- have been granted fare increases effective Jan. 9, as well as a higher fuel surcharge. There is no question that fare increases were overdue, and the schedule approved unanimously by the District Taxicab Commission is certainly not excessive. But no assistance to this industry can go by without a mention of the outlandish and illegal behavior of too many drivers still on the streets. Their continued refusal to observe the most basic rules -- maintaining a reasonably clean vehicle that actually moves, taking passengers to their requested destinations without argument, detour or overcharge -- begs for new crackdowns in the name of all law-abiding cabdrivers.
Police and the handful of on-the-streets hack inspectors at any given time have been doing what they can to flag and tag drivers who are without identification or with defective vehicles. But they can't begin to bag the driver who insults a passenger, loads up the taxi with other passengers whose destinations are beyond the maximum allowed detours from the first passenger's requested route or gets lost on the simplest mission.
Veteran Washington taxi drivers are every bit as incensed by this as any passenger. After all, these incidents hurt the industry's reputation as a whole. As news reports have shown lately, whatever joys there may be in driving a cab in this city, getting rich quick isn't anywhere on that list. The costs of fuel, vehicle payments, insurance, tags and maintenance have been eating up hefty shares of the daily take at the current fare levels.
While the new fares won't satisfy the drivers, the increases are not small -- and anything larger in one step could discourage some would-be passengers, at least temporarily. Eventually, the city should seriously consider moving to meters, which take into account time and mileage and, in many places nowadays, issue receipts, complete with cab number. There is some important relief, too, in the concept of the fuel surcharge that also has been increased and has an opening for a further increase if the cost of gasoline exceeds $2 a gallon. These steps by the city toward a more equitable fares policy should now extend to a more comprehensive -- make that read tougher -- policing of the vehicles and those who drive them.