Taxi drivers fight meter switch

D.C. taxi drivers are still fighting to keep the existing zone fare system, despite an announcement last week from Mayor Adrian Fenty mandating they install time-and-distance meters by May 1.

His announcement came a day after a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled that the mayor has the power to require the installment of meters in District taxicabs.

“We are heartened by the court’s validation of the city’s authority in this matter,” Fenty said in a news release.

Drivers caught without meters from May 1 to May 31 will be given a warning ticket. After June 1, drivers will be required to pay a $1,000 fine. Taxi inspectors, assisted by the Metropolitan Police Department, will spot-check for meters in cabs.

Fenty’s order requires switching to a meter system that calculates cab fares based on the time and distance traveled. He first announced the switch in October, explaining that time-distance meters would make it less confusing for riders trying to calculate their fare.

The D.C. Coalition of Cab Drivers, Companies and Associations, along with others, filed the lawsuit last month against the mayor in an effort to save the zone system that calculates fares based on the number of demarcated zones the cab travels through.

Jeffrey O’Toole, the attorney representing the taxi drivers, said he filed an appeal to the decision last Wednesday to contest the Superior Court’s ruling. He said that rather than the mayor, the D.C. Taxicab Commission is the only body with the power to make fare system changes.

“The (D.C. City) Council made a law that said the taxicab commission . shall have exclusive and original jurisdiction to promulgate rules with respect to meters and taxicabs,” said O’Toole, who is also a GW Law professor. “Nowhere in that scenario does it say that the mayor can step in and do it himself.”

DCTC Chairman Leon Swain did not respond to calls from The Hatchet.

Coalition Chairman Nathan Price said the fare system ambiguity between May 1 and May 31 could cause problems. This uncertainty allows riders to cheat drivers, he said.

“You hail a taxicab. The taxicab does not have a time-distance meter in it,” he said. “What will happen? You don’t have to pay the driver – he can give you service and you don’t have to pay him.”

Leslie Kershaw, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, said riders should report all cabs without meters to the Taxicab Commission. They are also supposed to pay zone fares to cab drivers if charged before June 1.

“If (the taxi) doesn’t have a meter system and they are charging a zone system fare, it’s wrong. but if you need to take the taxi you can pay the zone fare – but you should report it,” Kershaw said.

Drivers will likely strike in the May 1 to May 31 period because meter-less cabs have no guarantee of being paid, Price said. He also said the May 1 deadline is too stringent.

“It’s virtually impossible to put meters in 6,500 cabs in 10 days,” Price said. “There’s only maybe six installment shops and there’s no way in the world they can put meters into all the cabs.”

Andy Felix, owner of Andy’s Top Lites & Accessories auto detailing shop based near Virginia Beach, Va., said cab drivers could pay $300 to $500 to buy and install a meter. He said, it would take “a couple of hours” for someone familiar with the job.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.