- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A group of D.C. cabdrivers, angered by a city proposal to use meters to replace the zone system for fares, is trying to organize a strike Thursday morning.

The work stoppage would be from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., followed by a rally across from Mayor Anthony A. Williams' office.

"I've already given out 500 fliers, and I'm getting ready to go get 500 more," said Alonzo Broadus, 76, who has been driving a cab for 52 years. He also hopes drivers who get the fliers will spread the news.

The zone system was established in 1931 and, two years later, Congress prohibited the D.C. government from allotting funds for meters. Congress dropped that provision in 1986, but the zone system has remained.

Currently, the most expensive ride in one of the District's 6,000 cabs is $15.60. That would rise to more than $22 under the meter proposal, which calls for a $2.25 minimum for the first quarter mile, then 40 cents for each additional quarter mile. Under that system, the cheapest ride would fall from $5 to $2.25.

Mr. Broadus said cabbies fear the higher rates will cost them passengers especially the working poor.

While savvy local residents know where the zones change and often walk a block or two to save money many tourists are vexed by the system. That is a key reason behind the move to change to meters.

"Our taxi operation in this city is not what it ought to be. It's not what a world-class city would look to," said Tony Bullock, spokesman for the mayor. He said visitors would be more comfortable with a meter than trying to follow a zone system on a map.

"They'll feel they're being ripped off even when they aren't being ripped off. If you have a meter, everyone knows the score."

Several tourist-oriented organizations support meters. They include the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the closest airport to the District.

The airport is served by D.C., Virginia and Maryland cabs. All but the D.C. vehicles have meters.

"We are the gateway to the nation's capital," said spokeswoman Tara Hamilton. "We just think it would be a better customer service if meters were in the D.C. cabs."

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