D.C. cabs to adopt meter system

Taxi cab Companies such as Silver Cab Association oppose the D.C.’s switch to a metered fare system.
Ryder Haske/assistant photo editor

District taxicabs will soon switch from the zone system to time and distance meters, Mayor Adrian Fenty announced Wednesday.

The decision follows legislation sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) forcing Fenty to make a decision about cab fare calculation in the District. Fenty chose to sign an executive order getting out of the meter requirement.

“As we work to become a world-class city, it is essential that all aspects of District government are user- friendly, fair and efficient for residents and visitors alike,” Fenty said in a news release. “District residents are overwhelmingly in favor of modernizing and simplifying the fare system. By switching to time and distance meters, we meet the needs of the residents and standardize the experience for every taxi passenger.”

Prior to Fenty’s announcement, D.C. was the only major U.S. city to follow the zone system, which calculates the fare based on the number of demarcated areas – or zones – a taxicab enters during a trip, according to Fenty’s news release. The new meters will calculate fares by measuring the trip’s time and distance.

On the eve of his decision, the mayor had three options – keeping the zone system, switching to the time-distance meter or switching to a zone-meter system where a GPS device would monitor a combination of zones and meters.

A survey conducted by the D.C. Taxicab Commission in early September said opinions of District residents were split over the change, but frequent riders strongly supported meters.

The zone system was an often maligned part of the transportation system for some GW students. Crossing 22nd Street to catch a cab would put a rider in a new zone.

In practice, the switch to a time-distance meter system will likely make shorter trips less expensive but longer trips more expensive, according to a study conducted by the GW School of Public Policy and Administration. The D.C. Taxicab Commission included the study in one of its reports.

Kathryn Newcomer, a GW professor who led the study, said she did not think the outcome of her investigation was a factor because controversy over the change greatly increased in the past year. The research study was conducted from Oct. 2005 to May 2006 under the impression the change would occur, she said.

“The point was we were not advocating to go or not to go (to meters). It was if we went, what would be the appropriate prices so that we would hold the drivers and riders harmless,” said Newcomer, associate director of the School of Public Policy and Administration. The point of the study was to find fares that would equalize meter and zone fares, she said.

Critics of the change include cab companies who say the decision will hurt residents. Roy Spooner, general manager of Yellow Cab, said he is “extremely disappointed” in the mayor’s decision. Delays in traffic, construction and other events will increase travel fares, he said. Spooner worries day-to-day increases in cab fares will make riders less interested in using cabs regularly.

“If you take the same cab from the same pickup to the same destination there different times of the day, you will have three different prices because you are subject to travel conditions and every other man-made issue,” Spooner said.

“The president can leave the White House, they can fix a bridge, they can shut down something. For people coming from Southeast, if they’re coming over the bridge, the ride takes longer,” Spooner said. “The passenger pays for every delay. How is that benefiting the residents?”

Yellow Cab has already incorporated the zone-meter into its fare calculation system, Spooner said. The company has advocated a switch to the zone- meter system rather that a time-distance system, but could switch to either by changing its software, he said.

Some GW students said they were in support of the mayor’s decision to switch to the meter system because they usually use taxis for shorter trips and rely on the Metro for longer ones.

“I would agree with it just because I’d be taking shorter trips in D.C. because things are closer together,” said Eric Rosenfield, a freshman who has mostly used taxis to travel to and from clubs. “I don’t know where I would go that would put me at a disadvantage (in terms of price).”

Freshman Lorna Mulvaney said she also agreed because the cost would be proportionate to the trip.

“It probably makes more sense to do it the meter way,” Mulvaney said, “because you’re actually paying for how far you travel, not for randomly placed zones.”

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