or even a cab you can call your own for a solo trip to your actual destination. But the longest-running controversy in the history of hacking here is suddenly up for radical rethinking. For the first time in 53 years, Congress may deign to let the local government of this capital city decide whether cabs should have meters instead of zone maps. To the amazement of tourists and other first-timers not versed in the colonial history of Washington, the absence of meters in cabs here has had nothing to do with any prevailing sentiments among the city's drivers, passengers or elected officials. The reason is simply that Congress wanted it that way. Period.
But look who's leading a charge now to let the meters do the talking: Rep. Stan Parris of Virginia, who's not exactly a point man for D.C. home rule, is pressing for the change. Mr. Parris, ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the District's budget, says that dropping the congressional ban on meters "is, pure and simple, a fairness issue" for drivers as well as passengers. That's right: when the ban was first introduced in 1933 by Rep. Clarence Cannon, the explanation had to do with the Depression and with sparing drivers the expense of installing meters. In later years, the explanations disappeared because Congress never felt any obligation to explain its local rule-making to the residents.
It's just a fluke, of course, that the fattest zone on the map is the one that goes from the Capitol through the heart of downtown to near-Georgetown. The map, needless to say, is not designed for rapid reading by either visitors or veteran riders. And while most of Washington's hometown hackers will interpret the cartography honestly, there are those faceless drivers with no visible permits who love to play "Let's Make a Deal" when they snag a novice passenger. Meters would change that, as well as improve the record-keeping for tax purposes.
As on any other issue affecting cabbies, there is nothing resembling a consensus among drivers on the desirability of meters. But it hasn't mattered, either, because by law they were not permitted. If Congress does drop the ban, the city government at least could tackle the matter seriously and hear out any and all proposals for a better fare system. Given the intensity of past public reactions to anything having to do with cabs here, city hall had better be ready for an earful.