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DC Taxi Switch, Good or Bad? June 27, 2008

Posted by Reginald Johnson in Life, News.
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The taxi situation has taken some time for most people to digest. It has been almost a month since the city switched all of the District of Columbia taxi cabs over from a zone system to a time-distance meter system.

During this time, I have asked my friends what they think of the change. I also asked the cabbies!

A pretty good number of the drivers, actually almost half (yes, I kept a record of this) feel it was a positive change. One cab-driver actually said, “Making the system honest has actually made me more money. I love it.” Many cab-drivers say that within the city, there is moderate change – but nothing noteworthy. One said, “I’ve received more fares since the change, which means I make more money.”

Generally, the business is not so different that cab-drivers are having to file bankruptcy any time soon.

Overall, compliance with installing meters ended up going fairly smoothly.

One area that drivers dislike is traveling outside Washington. Long trips out to Virginia now cost a lot less. It was something the cab-drivers and the DC Taxi Commission expected to happen.

The DCTC says, “There no longer is not real incentive to going all the way out to Dulles Airport. Going to Dulles now run at least $20 less than they used to.”

But there is one area that drivers and passengers agree continues to be a source of confusion and mistrust similar to what things were like under the zone system: group cab rides.

In other major cities with taxis that use meters (Philadelphia, New York, etc.), if two friends share a cab headed in the same direction but request separate stops, the meter starts when they enter the cab together and continues to run on the same fare after the first person exits. The second passenger is responsible for the full fare at the end of the ride, so it’s up to them to collect money from their friend who they dropped off. This sort of system encourages people to share cabs who are heading in the same direction. But that’s not the way the new meter system works in the District of Columbia.

The way D.C.’s meter rules are written, when two people enter the same cab and ask for two stops, the driver is supposed to turn the meter off when the first person exits, charge them for the full fare up to that point, and then restart the meter with a brand new $3 drop fee before embarking on the second leg of the trip. The driver is also currently entitled to charge a $1 emergency gas surcharge for both segments.

To add to the confusion, normally when two people ride in the same cab, the driver is allowed to charge an additional passenger fee of $1.50. D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon Swain tells DCist that drivers are not supposed to charge that additional fee if they have agreed to make two stops and charge two different fares, but according to passengers we’ve spoken to, many drivers are charging it anyway.

The additional passenger fee trouble for groups of more than two can be even worse: Say three people share a cab, with one of them getting out at the first stop, and two getting out at the second. The driver is legally allowed to charge a $3 drop free and a $1 gas surcharge for the first leg of the trip, and then a $3 drop fee, a $1 gas surcharge, and an extra passenger fee of $1.50 for the second leg. But confused drivers may end up charging the additional passenger fee for the first leg of the trip, or they may charge two additional passenger fees, with the result that sharing a metered cab home with a friend or two at the end of the night can be just as confusing, if not more so, than the zone system. In many cases, it may be cheaper for a group to split up into separate cabs, even if their destinations are relatively close together.

When Mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon Swain first announced that the city had decided to make the switch to meters, they said they were doing so because they wanted the system to be more transparent, for residents to no longer worry they were being cheated, and that it didn’t make sense that the D.C. taxi system was unlike any other. The rules for group rides as they are written continue the tradition of the District’s old zone system by charging separate base fares and additional fees for each leg of a group trip. Confused passengers have for the last month found themselves once again arguing with D.C. taxi drivers over whether these kinds of fares are fair and legal.

“We knew we had to go back and do some tweaking,” Swain said. “We’ve gone from horse and buggies to space ships, as far I’m concerned, in 30 days.”

Whether changes to group taxi ride rules will come about is up to the nine-member Commission.

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