Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Meters vs. Zones, part 3

In today's Wash. Post metro section was a story about the zone / meter debate.

Some bits from the story

But the opposition already is primed for battle. Wright, now 83, is saying the same things he said in 1956 and periodically over the years when officials attempted to change to meters: Cabdrivers will not stand for it.

"We're going to fight it again," said Wright, who heads a drivers organization called the Taxicab Industry Group. "The zone system is a good system, and I'll tell you why: People in Washington, D.C., they know what the fare is because the zones don't change -- I don't care how much traffic you're in."

Taxis and their often confounding fares are an enduring -- if not always endearing -- feature of the nation's capital. Since 1933, when Congress banned meters in D.C. cabs, drivers have used the zones, concentric circles emanating from the downtown area, to determine fares. This can lead to some cockeyed prices: It is possible to travel from the eastern edge of Georgetown, 22nd Street NW, to the U.S. Capitol for the single-zone flat rate of $6.50, but a shorter trip that happens to cross a couple of zones can jump into double digits.

Visitors to the city find the zones either quirky or outrageous.

"It's one of the nicest things about D.C., a flat rate," Kevin Blackburn of Oakland, Calif., a banker who makes monthly trips to Washington, said as he stood in a taxi queue at a downtown hotel. "If they went with the meters, I would have to adjust, but it's certainly an easy way for somebody traveling around town. Most trips are between $7 and $9 with tips."

But John Alexander, a first-time D.C. visitor from Laguna Beach, Calif., who was in town for a Chorus America national conference, quickly soured on the zones. Like many residents who oppose the system, he suspects there is plenty of room for a driver to cheat.

"Last night, I had to go to a dinner, and the cab that brought me back charged me twice as much as the cab that took me there," he said as he waited for another taxi outside his downtown hotel. Well, maybe not quite twice as much, he amended, but $12 vs. $19.50.

Alexander said he questioned the more expensive driver about the discrepancy. "But he said, 'That's the cost,' and something about the districts or zones or something. I paid it. But if there was a meter, you wouldn't have to deal with something like that."

Many residents seem to share that opinion.

"Zones confuse me," said Susan Wagner, a school librarian who lives in Southeast. "I think I may have been overcharged, but I really don't know."

Elliott Nickeson, a lance corporal stationed at the Marine barracks in Southeast, considers the zones "ridiculous."

"There's nothing to look at, nothing to tell you anything," he said. "I don't know how many districts we went through. I don't like the whole idea that the driver seems to decide the price."

The District has more cabs per capita than any large U.S. city, Toney said. That is perhaps in part because so many of the drivers are self-employed. There are about 6,500 taxicabs here, prowling the streets for passengers. New York City, with more than 10 times as many people, has about 13,000 cabs.


At 11:06 PM, Blogger wil said...

I doubt if it will ever change but the drivers would make more money if they switched to meters. Especially on those airport trips, where they must "deadhead" back.

Your own experiences show that there are cabbies who either lack the ability to do simple math or are thieves. Those are the only two options that I can see for the differences.

Regular passengers would hate meters, since travelling during rush hour would mean a larger cost, due to the meter ticking over on the "time" as well as the "mileage".

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Mad Cabbie said...

Which one do you prefer DCCR?

At 4:28 PM, Blogger DC Cab Rider said...

I've gotten used to the zones. But meters would be cheaper for most of my rides, so I'd vote meters.

At 8:37 PM, Blogger Mad Cabbie said...

Don't forget that meter ticks while you sit in traffic, you know what, I do have a feeling they are going to change it in to the meter system this time, and I know we will make much more cash because those long zone rides to NE & SE will be attractive. I think DCCR you will save a couple of bucks from your comute from Adams Morgan to Capitol Hill without heavy traffic.

The sad thing is the poor folks across the bridge can not afford $20+ cab bill, while the elites like you get a little break. Its the reverse Robin Hood concept, Robb the poor and feed the rich.

Mad Cabbie.

At 11:57 AM, Blogger DC Cab Rider said...

LOL, this elite could use a little break. I've taken a kickboxing class and a defense class, but I'm still a 5'4" woman who is nervous enough about going into my basement apartment at night in the dark, let alone walk from the metro to my place.

At 11:46 PM, Blogger TUFFENUF said...

I was recently in your area staying in nearby Alexandria. I called a cab to take me to the National Theatre. The cabbie quickly gave me her card and told me to call her company if I needed a ride back, because the DC cabs don't have meters and can charge whatever they want. I didn't know about the zones at the time, and no meters sounded scary. I ended up taking the metro back to Alexandria for the adventure, and it was only $1.85!

At 9:24 AM, Blogger DC Cab Rider said...

tuffenuf -- you're right, metro is great here. I think sometimes it scares off visitors, but it can get you all over the city for just a buck or two.


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