Saumya Narechania: In defense of D.C.’s zone system

If you are reading this on the way to Capitol Hill by yourself and traveling by cab, you will pay $6.50 when you disembark. I know that for a fact, unless you are commuting at rush hour, it is snowing or you are carrying some baggage, in which case the fare will be slightly higher. The zone system is something I have learned and come to love as a D.C. resident. I know where each zone starts and stops and I know how to use the system, and I am guessing most upperclassmen at GW can effectively utilize the current scheme too.

It is not only about knowing how to use the zones to your advantage, it is that the zones are beneficial for Foggy Bottom residents for its central location and students in particular because of the places we tend to travel. Conventional knowledge has led many to believe that GW students will benefit from the change to a meter system because we don’t take cabs for long distance trips. Then again conventional knowledge said that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. At some point conventional knowledge told me Carrot Top was funny.

Assuming most GW students use the taxi system to go to local clubs, it is easy to examine the costs of alternative systems. New York City charges $2.50 as a flat fee, with 40 cents per fifth of a mile or a minute of idling. New York taxis also charge a night surcharge of 50 cents. Under that system, a trip from Ivory Tower to Madam’s Organ (a fairly central Adams Morgan destination) would cost $8.20, assuming about two minutes of idle time. This compares to the $8.80 that a GW student would pay under the current rules. If the trip departure point is changed to Thurston, though, the New York system fare jumps to about $9.00. These two zone trips do not really give any substantial evidence that the meter system benefits students, unless more than one passenger is in the car and Washington agrees not to charge for those extra people.

One-zone trips are less relevant for students because of the use of 4-RIDE. The other parts of zone one, downtown and Capitol Hill, will be most likely frequented during the day for internships and normally reached by metro. Thus, we get into the longer three- and four-zone trips that are, by all accounts, going to be more expensive than the current system fares. To me, it seems that GW students would be either breaking even or losing money as the switch occurs. Plus, most of us have the ability to use the zone system to our benefit and not get taken advantage of.

My opponents might say we can’t apply New York City fares because we’re not going to be using those fares – that we do not know what prices we are going to be charged. I would agree with them too – we do not know what is going to be charged or how the meter system is going to be implemented. New York was just an easy example as an East Coast city that uses meters. But since we do not know how the meter system is going to work, people should not be celebrating this change. Please do not mistake me for Russian President Vladimir Putin; but I welcome change, I just do not think the taxi system is the most pressing problem facing Washington right now. The city board could be more focused on getting the District a Congressional vote or fighting the AIDS problems in parts of the city instead of changing a system that seems to mollify only tourists and a few critics who are more misguided than Stephen Colbert is in his run for president.

There is no need to change the system we have, and it probably wouldn’t have happened this rapidly if Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) did not mandate that Mayor Adrian Fenty make a decision. Then, when Fenty made the decision, GW students lost some money in the long term. Meters are not advantageous to us; if anything they hurt our wallets and pocketbooks. We can try to stop the meter system before it gets going – maybe we can even redirect attention to a more worthy cause.

The writer is a senior majoring in conflict and security.

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