WASHINGTON'S CABBIES are getting what they deserve, a long-overdue increase in fares. Now it's the passengers' turn. Too many riders are tired of being bypassed, hassled, stalled, overcharged, misdelivered and racially insulted by a small but clearly present minority of drivers. These scofflaws never deserved to be in the business in the first place, and they certainly don't deserve any monetary favors now. With the support of the majority of the city's cabbies who work long, hard, courteously and honestly for what has been a grossly insufficient return, service can improve.

William J. Wright, chairman of the D.C. Taxi Industry Group, which represents over 60 percent of the city's cabs, recognizes this quid pro quo. Noting that cabdrivers had not had a fare increase in more than four years, Mr. Wright says many of the veteran drivers who know the city routes and provide the best service had become discouraged and were considering other work. The new fare schedule will encourage many to stay on.

But Daniel Smith, head of the Eastern Cab. Co., continues to find excuses for the existence of bad service. In January, when consideration of the fare increases and a separate crackdown on scofflaws were under way, Mr. Smith was quoted as claiming "there won't be any changes in service until they stabilize the industry, limit the number of cabs and limit the number of cab companies." Now he is saying that "as long as we are still on the zoning system where a passenger can ride for two blocks and pay $2.10 and another passenger can ride four miles for the same fare, you're going to get cabbies that will be partial. . . . Until we switch over to the meter system, then passengers will have to ear with their gripes."

Wrong. Passengers do not have to lump it. They can and should complain about any misguided cabbie who stands them up or dresses them down. There are fatter fines these days, as well as other sanctions awaiting those who ignore the terms of doing business. The next critical piece of business by the city should be a serious increase in the number of inspectors. The current grand total of four, for roughly 11,000 cabs, is ridiculous. And competition -- which Mr. Smith apparently would stifle -- can and should be a constructive force.

In the meantime, passengers should join the drivers in welcoming higher fares -- and standards to match.