Thursday, October 18, 2007

DC Taxi Zones vs. Meters

Ah, cab fares! Nothing gets the DC blogosphere a-rockin’ like a good old fashioned bru-ha-ha over cab fares!

Mayor Fenty’s newest decisive decision (he’s nothing if not decisive when he makes a decision) to switch DC’s cabs away from the zone system and to meters has been cheered by most cab riders, and even some cab drivers, but jeered by many cabbies.

Which leads me to believe that perhaps it’s a good thing.

But it’s quite a bit more complicated that it may seem. First of all, all you people out there who complain about the zone system do so for one simple reason: you don’t understand it. If you choose to take a cab for five blocks, you’ll pay the same amount as if you traversed the entire zone. Sucks to be you, but you WERE NOT overcharged. Too bad you’re too lazy to walk those five blocks. There are also extra charges during rush hour, which is why the same ride can sometimes be a couple bucks more or less at different times of day. It’s all written down inside the cab.

Now, I’m not necessarily defending the zone system. On Capitol Hill, we lived one block inside a zone. We quickly learned that if we were going down town, we had to walk a block west to catch a cab. Today, we also live right across a zone boundary line, so we’ve learned to have cabs drop us off at the restaurant across the street instead of in front of our building. But you can’t game the system if you’re from out of town and don’t know the system. Meters will help.

But meters will also hurt. Right now, I know when I get in a cab in DC how much a given ride will cost me, because I can read, both a map and the fare schedule, posted in every cab. It doesn’t matter if we sit in traffic, or it’s rush hour, or if the driver decides to drive around in circles or stop of a cup of coffee; the price will always be the same. With meters, you’ll never know what the cost will be. It will be completely dependent on traffic, and on the route the cabby takes. Cabbies will have no incentive to find the fastest route, like they do right now. If I want to figure out the best way to get from one part of the city to another, I take a cab and see how he goes, because he wants to get there a quickly as possible under the zone system. With meters, he’ll want to get there as slowly as possible.

So if this is the case, why aren’t cabbies supporting the meters? Two reasons: first, I bet they make a lot of money downtown or in Adams Morgan/Dupont Circle from lazy people who don’t want to walk a few blocks. Second, they’ve already figured out how to cheat in the present system, and they’ve yet to figure out how to cheat with meters. The devil you know if always better than the devil you don’t.

When it comes right down to it, as cab riders, things won’t change very much. Maybe the lazy people will pay less to go 5 blocks. But the rest of us will still have to be vigilant. However, instead of being vigilant about zones and surcharges and fare prices, we’ll have to know if a cabbie is taking us for a ride to run up the meter, and then have the guts to tell him.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My Wife is NOT Homeless

Contrary to word on the street, I work very hard to ensure that my wife remains housed. We found out about her street rep just recently. She was walking down U Street, carrying various attributes of her profession (paint box, palette, etc.), wearing paint spattered clothes, weaving her way through the crowds around Local 16 and Stetsons, when she happened by a homeless man. He was about to ask her for money, when he changed his mind and apologized. Then, reaching deep into a grimy pocket, he took out a couple dimes and actually offered them to her.

My wife had a hard time explaining to him that she didn’t need the money. Telling him she always dressed that way was not convincing, for he always dressed that way, too. She said she’s an artist, and he said, yeah, he is too. I’m just coming from doing work, she protested. I’m sure this guy is used to seeing people dressed in non-filthy clothes coming from work, so he was rightfully skeptical. Finally, he understood. Perhaps it was her perfume.

She told me what happened as soon as she came in. I laughed.

I wish there were a better ending to this story. I wish I could say that we rushed back out there and bought him dinner or at least gave him some money. But, instead, we sat down and ate our food and drank our wine while he continued to rattle his coin cup at the bus stop.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Quoting Quatable Quoting Coworker's Quotes

For some reason, I get really annoyed when people quote lines from movies. It bugs me even more when they don’t mention that they are quoting a movie and try to pass off the quip as their own.

For instance, recently someone at work said to me: “I’ve learned two things in my life: there is a God, and it ain’t me.” This is from Rudy, the movie where a Hobbit plays football for Notre Dame. It is said by priest to Rudy, who is having some sort of shortness-related existential crisis.

I don’t remember what we were talking about when this line was trotted out. I can’t possibly imagine how it could have come up; I usually confine my wine-soaked eschatological concerns and theological misapprehensions to the bonds of holy matrimony, much to the persistent irritation of my poor wife. It is quite out of character for me to have spoken so freely about the God-head at work so as to cause someone to quote Rudy to me. I assure you, the coworker was not a priest and I was not seeking spiritual guidance. Perhaps I was asking about the finer points of substituting “Court Leave” for “Annual Leave”, but there was decidedly no supplication involved. What ever the particular circumstances were, it is always inappropriate to quote movies and pretend that you’re not.

I’ve also had coworkers say things like “go ahead, make my day” when I definitely wasn’t lying on the ground with a .357 pointed at my face, “play it again, Sam” when I was no where near North Africa, and “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” I don’t even know where to begin to describe the contextual wrongness of that statement. In each of these cases, I stated, with a half-hearted laugh, that I had seen that movie, too, leading to my coworker simply walking away.

This is a disturbing trend, to say the least.

The only media that it is okay to quote without attribution is any line from The Simpsons. There seems to be a Simpsons' quote suitable for every situation. If the person you are talking to doesn’t get it, it is, in fact, inappropriate (and a waste of time) to say something like “you know, Homer? When he was on the hammock? In the back yard? With the beer? And the dog?” Quoting The Simpsons is like flashing a membership card for a secret club, a goofy, nerdy, pathetic (in a “I laugh at Pablo Naruda jokes” kind of way), club. (We do have reciprical memberships with the Monte Python Quoters Club, by the way.)

If you’re good at quoting The Simpsons, then it’s kind of like being king of the dip-shits. That’s kind of cool. (Attribution needed.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Mugging of City Neighborhoods

Madame M's post on DCBlogs, Muggin About (, hit a chord with me. I've been thinking about these very things a lot lately.

I think we're on the same Yahoo Group list serve. And while I've never been mugged, either, (although assaulted, yes), I have to agree with her. The common threads on the list serve: too much crime, and how to keep out new development (i.e., condos on 15th St. SE, taverns on PA Avenue SE).

Are these two issues related?

Jane Jacobs, the patron saint of all urban souls, would say yes: busy streets are safe streets. How do you make busy streets? 1. More density (i.e., more than 50 units per acre, which is what a row-house neighborhood averages) and 2. mixed uses, as in stores, cafes, print shops, offices, schools, churches, clubs, and yes, bars.

An urban neighborhood is not a suburban neighborhood and shouldn't be treated as such. A cut-off suburban neighborhood of single family homes can afford to have no commercial development because no one can get to it very easily. A city neighborhood, wedged in between other city neighborhoods, with mixes of socio-economic classes, races, cultures, and easily accessable by foot, metro, car, bus, taxi, bicycle, etc, can't afford to NOT have commercial development.

All the scariest, most unsafe areas of DC are residential neighborhoods. The lower the density, the less safe they are: east of the river, the density is lower than around RFK, there is no decent commercial development, and the crime rate is much higher. (I don't include upper-NW, which, for all intents and purposes, is suburban.)

These things are all related. My neighborhood (U Street, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant) has much the same demographic as East Capitol Hill, but is INFINITELY safer. The reason: 150 - 250 housing units per acre and tons of mixed use development.

If you don't want to have any commercial development around you, and you want to live in a house, you have two choices: live in the suburbs, or live in an unsafe city neighborhood. There are lots of quiet streets full of beautiful rowhouses in my neighborhood, but they are all within a block of the businesses on U and 17th and 18th and Florida and 14th and P and Q and R, etc., probably too close for the complainers on the Yahoo Groups list serve.

To be safer, areas like Capitol Hill East need more density and more commercial development. 15th Street SE between East Capitol and PA Ave used to have lots of businesses. Most have been turned into housing or remain boarded up. 14th Street also had businesses, most of which are gone. Neighbors should show up at ANC meetings and encourage development, not try to stop it. Worrying about the historic architectural character of a neighborhood when people are scared to walk outside to enjoy that historic character is ludicrous.

I moved from Hill East about a year and half ago partly because I realized that the anti-development attitude and the NIMBYism expressed on the list serve meant many long years of stagnation and of crime. And boredom. However, I didn't move, strangely enough, because of the crime.