Taxis resist switch to meters as deadline approaches

Taxi drivers in the District are reluctantly complying with a mandate to install meters by June 1, signaling the end of a nearly six-month battle to keep the zone system.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty announced last month that taxi drivers must place meters in their cabs by the deadline or recieve a $1,000 fine for non-compliance. Nathan Price, chairman of the D.C. Coalition of Cab Drivers, Companies and Associations, said the organization is in favor of installing meters for greater transparency, but said it was a poor move by Fenty to enforce the strict deadline.

“Do it in a timeframe so the job will be done right,” Price said. “Right now everybody’s rush, rush, rush. It’s pandemonium. Right now you’ve got about one-fifth of the meters installed, and you’ve got about (half of a) month to get all this done. I don’t see it happening.”

Only seven out of 21 taxis surveyed by The Hatchet in the GW area last Thursday had meters installed.

The coalition is appealing a ruling in the D.C. Superior Court that found the mayor had the authority to order the meter installments, Price said. A new case will also be brought to court based on “constitutional issues” such as “due process, trade and other issues,” Price added.

But problems within the coalition have blunted its effectiveness, Price said.

“There was supposed to be a strike (last) Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” he said. “Some members of the coalition just backed out of it and that’s probably going to break this coalition because you just don’t do that.”

Taxi meter vendors said installing the devices in about 65,000 District taxicabs would be difficult, but not impossible. Installing and calibrating a meter takes about an hour and the price ranges from $300 to $500.

Mushtaq Gilani, owner of Icon Cab Company, said his shop installs about 15 meters a day. The high demand began about two weeks ago because of the May 1 deadline and continues to be steady.

“You get people calling in every day,” Gilani said. “The phone rings off the hook like there’s no tomorrow.”

Excel Auto Repair installs about 20 to 30 taxi meters per day, manager Jim Nelson said. More businesses are getting licensed to sell meters because of the rising demand, he added.

“There are still places getting approved every day to install them,” Nelson said. “D.C. is doing what they can to accommodate (the taxi drivers).”

To sell and install a taxi meter in the District, businesses must be licensed by the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Sixteen locations are licensed to sell taxi meters in the city, according to the DCTC Web site.

Fenty announced last month that meter-less taxis should be reported to the DCTC after May 1. Employees at the DCTC said they have gotten no calls about meter-less taxis, but expect some after June 1.

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