The cost of a cab hailed in the District will go up by as much as 22 percent beginning Jan. 9 because of higher basic fares and bigger fuel surcharges approved yesterday by the District Taxicab Commission.
Under the new schedule, the minimum cost for a cab ride through one zone will increase from $2.90 to $3.50.
Riders will pay $1.50 for cabs that are dispatched, up from the $1 they now pay. A radio-dispatched ride from far Southeast or far Northwest into downtown Washington will cost most passengers $7.20, up from $5.75.
This is the third increase in rates since the District Taxicab Commission was created in 1987.
Commission General Counsel George W. Crawford warned that fares could rise again if the Persian Gulf crisis gets worse and pushes gasoline prices above their current levels.
The higher cost for cab rides is the latest in a series of transportation price increases facing Washington-area residents. Metro bus and rail riders probably will pay at least 5 percent a year more starting next summer.
Some taxi drivers praised the rate increase.
"I think it is a fair increase," said Patricia Case, a cabdriver for eight years. "Of course, I would love to have more."
But some others protested that the higher rates aren't high enough.
"It doesn't help us at all," said Paul Bath, vice chairman of the Concerned D.C. Cab Drivers Association, the group that organized a demonstration on Sept. 12 for higher fares. Scores of cabdrivers spent that day circulating through the city without picking up fares.
The cabdrivers complained that the rapid rise in gasoline prices and an increase in the cost of insurance and car repairs meant that they were, in the words of one driver, "working to get poor."
Drivers also complained that they had been hurt by a new fine schedule that raised the fine for driving without insurance from $5 to $500 and for failing to pick up a passenger from $25 to $250.
On Nov. 7, the Taxicab Commission's panel on rates and rules sponsored a public hearing on a plan to amend cab fares. Witnesses included Joanne C. Bell, president of the Communications Workers of America, Local 2336, who said that cabdrivers have seen in recent months "major increases in everything necessary for them to conduct business."
The panel recommended that the commission adopt a fare schedule that would give drivers a basic rate increase of about 10 to 15 percent and a fuel surcharge of 50 cents per trip, up from the 25-cent surcharge now in effect.
The panel argued that the fuel surcharge should be "treated separately from the basic fares" for cab service so that the surcharge could be changed as gasoline prices change. Utility companies use a similar theory in applying fuel surcharges.
The 50-cent surcharge should remain in effect, the panel said, unless the cost of gasoline falls below $1.30 a gallon or exceeds $2 a gallon.
The panel's recommendations were approved unanimously by the Taxicab Commission.
"The bigger picture is that if drivers leave the industry because they aren't earning a fair rate of return, the public suffers," Crawford said.
"We have large numbers of senior citizens who use taxicabs for medical appointments, parents who use taxicabs to send children to school, tourists and visitors who use taxicabs to carry on national and international business. If taxi service isn't provided, then the entire public suffers, not just the drivers."