Saturday, September 08, 2007

Meters vs. Zone in DC -- Are Zoned Meters the Answer?

From today's WaPo -

For the first time in decades, the District is poised to change the way taxi fares are calculated. Armed with a survey showing widespread discontent with the system, the eight-member D.C. Taxicab Commission will vote Tuesday whether to recommend that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) stick with zones or switch to meters, which every other major U.S. city uses. But in interviews with commission members last week, it appears a third option is gaining momentum.

It's the "zone meter" or zone-fare calculator. With signals from a Global Positioning System, the device calculates fares based on existing zones. At the end of the journey, the device prints a detailed receipt, giving riders the reassurance they are not being cheated. Zone meters were installed in about 300 Yellow Cabs in the District over the past year.

It will be interesting to see what happens here. I've ridden in a couple of the Yellow cabs with the zone meters, but have yet to see it in action. Guess since most of my taxi rides are in zone 1, they don't break it out for us.

I'm sure the non DC folks are puzzled about the district's love for the zone system, but it's pretty wide spread (for good & bad reasons). According to a recent survey of drivers, "Of more than 600 cabdrivers surveyed, 183 said they liked the common time-and-distance meters and 177 did not want meters at all. But more than 300 favored the zone meter."

Background information from the story:

No other U.S. city has a taxi system quite like the District's. Its zone system dates to the 1930s, and about 90 percent of its 7,500 licensed cabdrivers are independent owners. . . .

Because of the setup, local cabdrivers historically have had a lot of power, Toney said. He thinks the commission, established in 1986 after Congress relinquished control, has failed to act in the past because of fears that drivers "would create a crisis." "Every time the issue comes up, drivers say, 'We're going to strike,' " he said, describing the response as "scare tactics." "From 1986 until today, the commission has been fiddling with this issue and has been unable to resolve what is at its base a common-sense issue." He does not have much faith that zone meters will solve the problem.

"It does nothing to address one of the largest failings of the zone system -- the fundamental unfairness of the system itself," he said of the zones, which were originally drawn to benefit Congress members and others on Capitol Hill. You can go from Constitution and Second to Foggy Bottom and consume a driver for 25 minutes and pay only $6.50 for a trip three miles or more -- and somebody else goes less than a third of a mile and has to pay twice that. The zone calculator does nothing to address that."


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