Sticker Shock — for DC Cab Drivers

Sticker Shock -- for DC Cab Drivers

Police patrols are penalizing procrastinating passenger haulers in Washington, DC. After a month-long grace period, District taxicabs without distance/time meters are subject to $1,000 fines. June 1 marked the official end of the zone system for DC hacks. While we will miss the dramatic debates with cab drivers over zone fares, it is a relief that the 21st century sees DC joining other world cities in using this 20th century technique.

The zone system was imposed on the city by Congress 75 years ago in a pattern that — surprise! — allowed congressional staffers cheap rides and penalized residents of black neighborhoods in that era of strict residential segregation. Attempts to change to meters in the 1930s were squashed by Congress.

Residents who still benefit from the old Jim Crow zone placement or believe they can game the system dislike meters; so do drivers, who could hide part of their cash receipts from the tax man with zones. Those days are gone. Cab owners get little political traction here, since 80 percent of them are not DC residents.

If you want a copy of the sticker for your own, get one here. Remember to add the $1 per ride fuel surcharge, an “emergency measure” which will probably be extended until gas returns to $1.98 a gallon. If it’s any comfort to DC cab riders, the Montgomery County fuel surcharge is $1.50.

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