Well, That Was Boring

Went to the beginning of the taxi rally on Freedom Plaza. Turnout appeared to be about 150, which, to be honest, was more than I was expecting.

The dude with the microphone was asking people to call "four or five friends" on their cell phones to try and get a larger turnout. No one seemed to be obliging him. There were also a bunch of picket signs that said things like "Give us a certificate" and "Leave our business alone." The latter I get. I'm a bit confused by the former.

The funny thing about drivers wanting DC to leave their business alone is that cabs are already one of the most regulated businesses in the city. The price is already set. So how would a meter be any different? Because it would be fairer to the consumer. And that's what this is about, ladies and gentlemen. The ability to rip people off.


  1. Getting in a cab and knowing exactly what it's going to cost your is anti-consumer, while giving cabbies the ability to take you for a ride to jack up the fare is pro-consumer? Er... OK.

    The zone fares are one of the things I miss about DC.

  2. Oh, it's still very, very easy to rip people off using zones. But at least you know the cabbie isn't making a number out of thin air.

  3. John, where exactly is it that you live that you feel costs more than DC to take a cab? This has got to be the most expensive cab city in the country.

    I'm not quite sure I get this "taking for a ride" theory. I've never had that happen to me in New York, Baltimore, or any other city that I'm familiar enough with to know one way or the other.

    I'm sure it happens sometimes. Probably to Asian tourists who will get screwed no matter what the system. But I have lived here for 17 years and I get a bogus fare about every other time I take a cab. Of course, the system is so confusing, I'm rarely quite sure. My cab rides are usually between the same points, it's just the fares that aren't.

  4. Let's get real. You can't hide cash from the taxman - or the boss, if you drive on contract - if you have a meter in your cab.

  5. I agree that meters will give them more ability to rip people off. I know the zones because I've looked at the map. I know how much it will cost. But with a meter, I'd have to constantly be looking out the window to see where a cabbie is taking me, so he's not running up the fare, rather than talking to my friend next to me or playing with my state-of-the-art mobile communications device.

    I used to live in north dupont, just a couple blocks above Florida. The zones were great because all i had to do was walk past Florida before hailing a cab and save myself a few bucks. And if you're was heading to 9:30 Club from the west, you just make sure the cab stays south of Florida and U. You walk a couple blocks and there you are. And now you can use that money to spend on overpriced beers.

    Obviously, not every cab ride is to 9:30 club, but you see my point...if you do your homework you can avoid getting "taken for a ride" so to speak.

  6. Once again, Rusty, I'm really not following your logic here.

    The cabbies want to keep the zones to preserve "the ability to rip people off?"

    Ok, so the government SETS THE PRICE for a ride from one zone to another before the taxi picks anyone up. It's done. Downtown to Petworth costs $X. Crestwood to Capitol Hill costs $Y. Etc. How is this ripping people off when ANYONE who wants this information can have it?

    Under a meter system, the driver has many more opportunities to rip you off. First, he can't give you a price before the trip, like he can now. Second, even if he knows a faster way, he's under no obligation to take it. He can just hop on to K street in bumper to bumper traffic and watch that meter tick.

  7. Why else would cabbies be fighting so hard against a meter system? You people really think they're protesting the meters out of love for their customers?

    It's about money. We're talking about Ethiopians, people. Eithiopians!

    It all starts with the "for five cents a day" schpeel.

  8. can i be the asshole that says maybe if you only cab in dc zones are ok, but if you leave the district cab fares follow a basic rate plus mileage formula...?
    no 2 hacks calculate this the same.

    and when you use flat rate + mileage, you should have a meter to calculate distance, unless for some reason you can see the vehicle's odometer at 2am when you're drunk. or ever.

  9. Feel free to be that asshole, by all means.

    Of course, if you're going out to bars in Virginia and then cabbing back home to DC, you sort of deserve to get gouged. Right?

  10. If a cabbie can take you out of the way to jack up a meter fare, he can take you in and out of zones (or just lie about the zones) to jack up the fare in DC's antiquated zone system. If you know the zones well enough to avoid letting him do this, then you also know the route well enough to avoid letting a metered cab taking you out of the way.

    If the zone system is so damn great for passengers, how come DC is the only major city to use it? Am I to believe that ass-backwards DC is cutting edge in this area?

  11. "If a cabbie can take you out of the way to jack up a meter fare, he can take you in and out of zones (or just lie about the zones) to jack up the fare in DC's antiquated zone system. If you know the zones well enough to avoid letting him do this, then you also know the route well enough to avoid letting a metered cab taking you out of the way."

    That's actually not true. I don't avoid getting ripped off because I'm looking out the window and making sure he's not taking me through multiple zones. I avoid it because i can look at a map and know right off the bat how much it's going to cost. I don't have to pay attention during the ride. If at the end of the trip he asks for more than its supposed to be, then I just point to the map and say "Sorry, pal.." Even if he crosses out-of-the-way zones, I'm only responsible for what the maps says.

    And exactly how does a cabbie lie about zones? They're right there in front of you. Plus, the commission also prints a table that shows the maximum number of zones a cab is allowed to travel through to get from Point A to Point B. For instance, if you wanted to go from 2E to 2A, the cabbie could go in a big circle around the CBD and hit 5 zones along the way. But the table says it should only take him two (by driving through the CBD).

    It's not perfect, but it certainly takes less oversight on the part of the driver to avoid getting ripped off.

    Personally, I like the idea of a hybrid system. Zones with GPS tracking.

  12. I read a piece about this in the Post yesterday, and the thing that really jumped out at me was that the cabbies never once mentioned their customers, and how they might feel about this.

  13. No, they didn't mention their customers feelings. They're looking out for themselves, just like the rest of us. I'm not entirely clear on their real motives for resisting meters...maybe just opposing change for the sake of the status quo. I don't really care.

    My main overall point is that this city is so damned shitty at so many things, we can't even recognize when they do something right. I firmly believe our taxi situation is good, and I don't want it changed at all.

    Do you realize that Washington is the only American city of its size where you can walk down the street in most neighborhoods and hail a cab. Yes, I said "walk" and "most" so don't tell me how hard it is to hail a cab in Mt. Pleasant because that's not the point.

    In other cities the same size as DC, you cannot catch a cab on the street outside of the central business district. We're talking about places like Louisville, Oklahoma City, El Paso, and Albuquerque. Ever try and catch a cab in any of their more residential/outlying neighborhoods?

    Learn the zones people. It's as simple as looking at diagrams of shapes on the back of a seat. You can do it, I promise.

    This city has very few things I take comfort in. Knowing that the ride from my apartment to/from my favorite bars will always be the same, night and day, no matter how long it takes, is one of those few comforts.

    Why do we have to fuck with this?

  14. James hits it right on the head. It's not the best system in the world, but dammit..it works most of the time.

    I'm starting to think that the cabbies' main beef with the meters is that most of them are independent contractors and a switch to meters will mean more overhead for them. Right now, all they need is a license and a car. I'm sure meters aren't as expensive to own and maintain as they used to be, but I bet it's still a significant investment. Of course, the hybrid version would probably cost them even more. As soon as somewhat mentions GPS systems, indie cabbies are gonna shit.

  15. I think there are some plants on here, James & Robert (cough).

    The point is, I shouldn't HAVE to walk 2 blocks to save $2. I should be able to get picked up AT MY HOME and get taken TO WHERE I WANT and be able to see the fare tick off every minute I'm in the cab - just like EVERY OTHER MAJOR CITY in the country!

    If zones were fair, every city would have them. They don't.

  16. uhhh...okay. a plant for whom, exactly, people who don't want to get ripped off?

    i'm not a plant. i'm a human being who can read a map.

    I don't really understand your argument. I can see how some people hate the zone system because they feel it's confusing. Granted it can be (i still think it puts more power in the hands of the consumer, so long as they put forth a little effort). But your statement that you want to be charged for "every minute that I spend in a cab" only proves my point. When you're stuck in traffic, you WILL GET CHARGED for every minute. If that's what you really want. Personally, I like the idea of being able to get picked up from my house and get to where I want to go and pay the same amount, regardless of whether some mouth-breather jackknifes his truck on Connecticut Ave. or Bush goes out for a bite to eat.

    And the argument that it MUST be unfair since no other major city uses it is devoid of logic. Every city is different.

    I get your point that you shouldn't have to walk 2 blocks to save $2. But that's just a by-product of the zone system that you can take advantage of if you want to. If not, fine. I think it comes down to a compromise. You give up a little bit of a bargain in some cases in order to get stability and consistency in return. And in a city where traffic is never predictable, I like that compromise.

  17. Haha...damnit, the jig is up.

    Yeah I'm a plant, sent here by the well-organized force that is the cabbies association.

    These Ethiopians really have it in for Rusty, and they're so pissed they hired me to log in and cause trouble.

    It's an elaborate plot to force you to continue walking two blocks (only two? is that a struggle for you? why didn't you write something that would be a real bitch, like 10?) to save money.

    There will be NO home pickup for you, and they will NOT take you anywhere you want for an exorbitant price!

  18. OK OK so you're not plants.

    But meters save customers money. DC conducted a study with the test meters they've been running.

    The test study found that yes, zones are cheaper if you're traveling more than 15 miles. BUT, meters are cheaper under 15 miles. I never go to Virginia or Maryland, so meters are cheaper for me. The cabs know this, which is why they are protesting the change.

    Call me crazy, but I can take a cab from Midtown NYC to the UES with a meter for a hell of a lot less than I can take a cab from Dupont to ADAMS MORGAN with a zone system. That doesn't make ANY sense to me.

  19. I saw this blog posting in the 'EXPRESS' as I was on the metro this morning.

    Personally I want to know exactly how much it is going to cost me to get somewhere and I am not trying to be ripped off in the process.


  20. I don't understand how a zone system could possibly be cheaper unless you're traveling from Georgetown to Anacostia, but I doubt many take that route frequently. Most rides I would take are only about 2-3 miles but cross 2-3 zones.

    I rarely take taxis in DC because they are so expensive and because they lie to me about the fare almost every time I'm in the cab. I have the zone lines memorized and if I'm unsure of a trip, I check it ahead on the fare calculator site, but that means nothing at the end of the trip with the driver quotes some incorrect price and I'm stuck arguing with him for five minutes about the correct fare.

    The suggestion of walking across zone lines to cut down on the fare doesn't always work either, because many times the empty cab drives past me when I'm on a line and waving (like 2nd & Independence SE or 18th & Florida) and will drive half a block into the zone before stopping, thus jacking up the fare if I choose to get in.

    Further, it is ridiculous that my friend and I, who live a few blocks apart, can't split a cab and each get dropped at our door without paying a full fare each. This isn't an issue in metered cabs. Yes, we can select a center point and walk, but as young females, it's not always safe to do so.

  21. #1. it doesnt matter how many zones you travel through - all that matters is the zone you started in and ended up in.
    #2. sometimes the zones rip you off (ie short trip from downtown to adams) sometimes it works in your favor (long trip from hill to dupont). either way taxis will rip you off.
    buy a bike.

  22. I live in Houston, cabs are somewhat pricey but not horrible.

    I used to live in DC, and when I took cabs I'd - get this - LOOK AT THE MAP or the fare calculator on the city web site before I left the house. So I knew what it would cost.

    before DC I lived in Boston, which has meters, and the same trip would regularly cost anywhere from $3 to $6. I had drivers take me on bizarro routes (for those who know Boston, getting on Storrow Drive to go from the Fenway to the South End) and - surprise! - it cost more.

    There are tons of cases in other cities of cabs taking people for long rides, meter-zappers which make the meter count up faster, and the like.

    DC has a good system. If the prices are too high, that's a separate issue. If there aren't enough cabs (or there are too many), that's a separate issue.

    I'll be sad the day I come to DC and step into a cab at National and don't know what it's going to cost me to get into the District, if that happens.

    As for the person who complains that they shouldn't have to walk two blocks to a zone boundary to save money, just get in the cab at your door and pay more. It's the same thing that'll happen with meters!

  23. Oh, and the last time this all got argued about when I still lived in DC, it became apparent fast that the real issue with zone fares is stupid passengers. A Post article features a great quote from some woman who said that she took a cab from her office to the Hill every week, and it cost a different amount every time. What a bad system!

    Of course, you'd wonder why somebody who takes the same trip EVERY WEEK wouldn't look at the map and figure out what it should cost, so when the cabbie wanted more she could say "No way!"

    But I do realize that DC is the District of Complaint, and the zone fares gives people who can't be bothered to look at the map something to bitch about.

  24. I rip off cabs more frequently than I get ripped off. I yell and argue and get the cab to agree to my "interpretation" of how many zones I've travelled (hint: it's always one). Then he goes and rips off the next dumb asshole who's never been in a DC cab before. Do I give a shit?

    Of course, if I ever take a cab to Arlington, I get fucked... but that's how it works.

  25. John from Houston: if you step into a cab at National, it's an Arlington cab and it has a meter... I guess it's been a while, huh?