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.