Saturday, June 24, 2006

Zones vs. Meters, take 4 -- testing the difference

I thought that was a funky thing attached to the dashboard of a yellow cab I was in a couple of weeks ago. Apparently Yellow Cab has been working with DC Cab Commission to test a fare calculator. It's not a meter, it uses GPS to read when a cab has crossed a fare zone. From the Washington Post:

Now, a little-noticed hybrid is being used in a growing number of D.C. taxicabs, one that may someday render moot the debate about meters versus zones by convincing passengers, perplexed by the city's unusual system, that their fares indeed are fair.For several months, about 100 drivers with Yellow Cab, the District's largest independent cab company, have been using a device called a fare calculator. The electronic instrument, mounted on a cab's dashboard, operates like a meter but uses the boundaries of D.C. taxi zones and the Global Positioning System (GPS). The device lets riders know, in a way that worn-out zone maps posted on the backs of cab seats cannot, that they have traveled from, say, Zone 1A to Zone 2C.

Yellow Cab, which has 650 vehicles, is not taking sides on that issue, general manager Roy D. Spooner said. The company, on Bladensburg Road NE, had planned to update its operations, replacing its old-fashioned dispatch room -- where operators slide the scribbled cab requests over to a dispatcher -- with computers and GPS.

Last year, after watching Digital Dispatch Systems, a Vancouver company, demonstrate its fare calculator to the D.C. Taxicab Commission, Spooner and Yellow Cab owner Vaughn Williams decided to give the device a shot.

Spooner and Williams see the fare calculator as an alternative to the zones-versus-meters debate and hope to install the device in more cabs.

"If you listen, people aren't really saying they want meters," Spooner said. "What customers are saying is they want fair and consistent prices. We wanted the public to see this alternative. It's not threatening, and it's very accurate. You can't trick it."

Stanley W. Tapscott, a member of the taxi commission, has called the fare calculator "the wave of the future" and said he helped Digital Dispatch Systems develop the device for D.C. zones. He has been using one of the calculators in the black-and-orange Lincoln Town Car he drives for Capitol Cab.

Some customers encountering the calculator are initially taken aback, he said, mistaking the device for a time-and-distance meter. But by the end of the trip, most seem to like it.

"I've had people get in my car and when I turn this on, right away, they get upset," he said, explaining that the meter starts with the base fare of $6.50 plus $2 for the radio call. "They say, 'Why is it $8.50 when we haven't moved?' I tell them when we cross a zone, it automatically calculates the zone. And then at the end, all I have to do is hit one little button and it will give you a receipt, with everything that was charged. It explains everything -- like a radio call, luggage, if there are three passengers, whatever."


At 3:41 PM, Blogger wil said...

Okay, how will this work when the drivers want to pick up, along the trip, other fares going the same general direction, as you've spoken of before?

Doesn't sound like they'll be able to do that if they use either the GPS or a "meter".

At 8:48 PM, Blogger DC Cab Rider said...

Good question. I don't know how they're doing the double trip thing on GPS, if they go to meters, they wouldn't be doing it at all, which I think is one of the reasons some drivers don't want to go to meters.

On a ride back from a bar on the hill last night the driver stopped on Mass Ave for a guy who was going to U street, and just after we dropped him off, the driver picked up a woman who was going to Mt. Pleasant, so he ended up with 3 fares on one drive.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Mad Cabbie said...

Caching! Caching! ring the register to death.

At 6:04 PM, Blogger Jodasm said...

Uh, what about when drivers intentionally take a less direct route in order to snag another zone. Happens to me all the time.


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