Taxicab fares in the District of Columbia will increase 15 to 25 cents per ride starting Nov. 22, the D.C. Public Service Commission announced yesterday.
The taxi increases come on the heels of Thursday's announcement by Metro of a general increase in mass transit fares for the Washington area. Most base fares for buses and subways will rise from 60 to 65 cents, and boundary crossing fees will increase in varying amounts, beginning Dec. 5.
The taxicab fare increases vary according to the length of the ride. For example, a single-zone trip will rise 15 cents from $1.55 to $1.70, while a five-zone trip from downtown to the outlying edge of the city will increase 25 cents, from $4.35 to $4.60.
Yesterday's action marks the second taxi fare increase in the city in less than a year. Last December, a straight 10-cent-a-ride boost was approved by the PSC.
The larger increases for longer rides in yesterday's fare structure are designed to provide an incentive for cab drivers to take passengers to the city limits, officials said. Passengers, especially residents in far Northeast and Southeast, have often complained that they have difficulty getting cab drivers to take them there.
"We are trying to address that problem," said People's Counsel Brian Lederer, whose office represents the public before the PSC and works with the taxicab industry to iron out problems. He said he felt the increase is "a relative incentive. It's a balance. If you raise the price too much, people won't ride cabs."
Lederer estimated that at least 100,000 passengers ride in D.C. cabs every day.
While officials of the Taxicab Industry Group maintained that cab drivers are willing to go to faraway zones, they said the fare increase will be an added incentive. "The man cab driver will be more willing to take the trip," said Fred D. Matthews, executive secretary of the Taxicab Industry Group, which represents about 65 percent of the more than 9,100 cabbies in the city.
However, some cab passengers expressed skepticism. "They still won't go," said Ann Nelson, whose fare from downtown to her home near Hadley Memorial Hospital east of the Anacostia River will increase by 25 cents from $4.35 to $4.60. "They don't want to go to those zones," she said as she stood waiting for a bus near Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW yesterday.
The fare boost comes after representatives for the taxi industry argued that the increase was needed to offset inflationary costs for cab drivers.
"We are very pleased with the results," said William Wright, president of the Taxicab Industry Group. "We have fought for some time for this. We feel that this will enable more drivers to stay on the streets."
"If it's going to increase my profits, I'm all for it," said cab driver Thurman L. Battle when told of the new rates. "The gasoline problem is unbearable."
However, Battle said he was concerned that "too many increases may decrease the riders."
Battle, who has been driving a cab part-time for 15 years, said he has noticed after each increase, his ridership immediately drops.
But, he added, "Eventually, they will come back." He said he has noticed recently that even the complaints from his passengers about fare rates have subsided. "I get fewer and fewer complaints from people," he said. "I guess it's because everything they do nowadays is high."
Some taxicab riders yesterday said the fare increase is too much. "Cabs already cost enough," said lawyer Bill Rothbard as he hailed a taxi outside the Federal Trade Commission on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Rothbard's normal two-zone trip will increase from $2.25 to $2.45.
When told of the fare increase, Olette Davis, who was sitting at a bus stop at Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, said, "I'll be sitting right here from now on." The Southeast resident said, "I don't catch them taxis too much already 'cause it's too expensive."
However, Pauline Beverley, who works at Columbia Hospital, said she wasn't upset. "They cab drivers have to make a living," she said. "Gas and everything is going up. They have families to support."
Unlike most cities where drivers work for wages and commissions paid by cab fleet operators, Washington cabs are owned or leased by their drivers, who collect the fares, pay their own expenses and keep what is left over as a profit.
Also, unlike other cities, taxicab-fare meters are prohibited here by Congress, and fares are collected under a complex geographic zone system.
Lloyd Moore, general counsel to the PSC, said a consultant firm is currently studying the zone structure to determine if any changes should be made.
PSC Chairman Ruth Hankins-Nesbitt was joined in approving yesterday's fare increase by commission members Patricia Worthy Clement and Wesley H. Long.