Cab Fare

Two-and-half zones plus rush-hour charge, carry the 9, except in Leap Years . . .

The primary reason D.C. taxicab drivers and owners oppose meters remains unspoken. It is something common to small business everywhere in the United States. I write about it with some trepidation, concerned I will never be able to get a cab in this town again.

The reason many cabbies oppose meters is simple. They do not seek to confuse and fleece riders with the complicated zone system of fares. It is this: the taxicab business is a cash business. It is difficult to hide profits from IRS and the District Treasurer if a meter records every transaction.

You may think a taxi meter is no different than a cash register in a candy store. That is because you are naïve. Once the meter flag goes down the cab ride is on the books. There isn’t a “no sale” key or a cash drawer that springs open; no way to change paper tapes or engage in other actions that can be used to shield meager profits from the taxman. Drivers can’t even hide gratuities the way they used to, not that DC cab riders are good tippers. The IRS assumes a fixed percentage of income from tips for people in certain occupations.

Small business profit margins are razor-thin; costs and taxes continue to climb. Small businesses have long relied on the advantage of hidden cash profits the way giant corporations rely on tax loopholes and creative accounting.

Cab drivers are not committed to the 75-year-old zone system per se, that anachronistic map of the commuting patterns of congressional employees during the segregated years of the system’s inception. Cabbies wish to keep the same sad business strategy other small businessmen must resort to in our over-taxed times. It is patently unfair to cab riders, but who can blame them?


UPDATE: Mayor Adrian M. Fenty will sign a mayoral order mandating a switch from the taxi zone system to time-and-distance meters.

Image mashed up by Mike Licht from some Midwest city’s signage and a San Francisco cab’s paint scheme. Well I like it, anyway.

7 Responses to “Cab Fare”

  1. scott47 Says:

    I understand why they oppose meters, and I teeter totter on whether they should be used. But overall I think that meters should not be used.

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    Scott: The Post article linked above — and the 50 comments appended to it — show you are in a distinct minority. People overwhelmingly feel that charging everyone equally for time and distance is fair.

    The city tried to install meters in the 1930s but Congress forbade it, rigging up the zone system so staffers could get from their segregated housing in Near-NW to congressional offices cheaply. Housing patterns have changed in 75 years but the zone-fare provision has been part of every District Appropriations Bill for 75 years. It is truly the last legacy of de jure segregation in Washington.

    The GPS system is just a high-tech version of this, and I fear the mayor will be too blinded by the “gee whiz” factor to realize it perpetuates an inequity.

  3. ladona Says:

    Mayor Fenty’s cab fares are higher than rates in New York and other major cities. Sign this petition demanding fair cab rates for DC:

    Fenty’s proposed rates are not final, and we still have a few days to participate in a public comment period to demand a lower drop rate fare. Sign now.

  4. Mike Licht Says:

    Ladonda: The petition would be more convincing if you presented alternative rates, especially since it costs $6.50 to sit in a DC cab right now.

  5. Karl Rudder Says:

    The little known facts that will expose the Congressional corruption of the DC taxicab are available for careful review via under the subject, “Karl Rudder’s Blog”.
    “The Truth can be hidden but cannot be changed!”

  6. Karl Rudder Says:

    After more than 75 years the news media has yet to ever “report” that the DC Public Utilities Commission initially denied,”any version of the zone system to replace meters in DC taxicabs.” ( DC Public Utilities Commission order no. 956 11/6/31)
    Judge Adkins completely upheld DC Public Utilities order no. 956 by his ruling,”In my view the zone system is only a means to exploit the labor of the driver.” (PUR vol. C pgs. 17,19)
    The U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Adkins’ decision. (1932) F2d 1005.
    Politricks has allowed DC and national politicians to assist the news media in not yet responsibly researching and “reporting” the undeniable facts about the corrupt origin of the unique DC taxicab zone system.

  7. Karl Rudder Says:

    My effort to refer to the initial and still standing government and court decisions that had totally denied, “any version of the zone system to replace the use of meters in DC taxicabs” is in need of my correcting a little typographical error which could cause unnecessary difficulty for others trying to obtain and review copy of the decision by Judge Adkins.
    The initial court decision that completely upheld the 20 reasons listed by the DC Public Utilities Commission order no. 956 is available for review on page 1 of volume C of the Public Utilities Records of 1932. (P.U.R 1932C pg.1)

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