- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

About 50 D.C. taxicab drivers held a rally yesterday outside City Hall to alert the D.C. government that its proposal to remove the zone-fare system and replace it with a meter system is not in the best interest of cabbies or riders.
The District of Columbia is the only major city that uses a geographic-zone-fare system. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams supports meters and has drafted a proposal he thinks would benefit riders and drivers in the District.
"With a meter system, drivers get a fair return on their investment and riders pay a fair and accurate price for service," Mr. Williams said at a Wednesday press conference.
But cabbies say metered cabs will hurt D.C. residents who have the greatest distance to travel and benefit tourists, who usually travel shorter distances to visit the sights.
During the three-hour strike, from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. yesterday, some cabbies refused to pick up passengers, while others rallied in front of the Wilson Building, shouting "No token meters" and holding up signs demanding that Mr. Williams be recalled from office.
Taxicab Commissioner Sandra Seegars, who opposes a meter system, said although only 50 of the 6,000 cabbies in the District showed up outside the Wilson Building yesterday, others participated in the strike, but it was difficult to count moving targets. Some of the usual spots where cabs wait to pick up passengers were virtually deserted.
"Only two D.C. cabs showed up at Union Station during the strike and some that were working turned their lights off and joined us," Miss Seegars said.
Not a single taxi responded to the doorman at the Willard Hotel across the street from City Hall while he blew his whistle repeatedly.
Miss Seegars said "this is the wrong time to slip in an end-of-the-year proposal," adding "The fact that they would strike now under these economic conditions indicates their strong opposition, and we should listen to them."
The meter system the mayor proposes would charge $2.25 for the first quarter mile and 40 cents for each additional quarter mile. Additional fees could be incurred for excess luggage.
Cabdrivers say this plan still would rob them of their ability to pick up more than one passenger at a time. But D.C. officials say it would only change the emphasis.
"Instead of a driver being able to decide if he will pick up more than one passenger, the passenger will make that choice," said Causton Toney, director of legislation and policy for the Mayor's Office of Economic Development.
Cabbies said poorer residents would be hurt by a proposal for a meter system that could cost those living on the city's fringes 50 percent more than the zone system.
"There is already a 10 percent discount for senior citizens 65 and older in the proposal," Mr. Toney said.
Taxi drivers also estimate they would have to pay between $600 and $800 installing meters in their cars. But Mr. Toney said that figure is overblown.
"If they use the minimum required meter device it could cost as little as $250 to install," Mr. Toney said. "You could spend $800 if you wanted to, but we're not asking anyone to do that."
Mr. Toney said his installation estimates came from the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
He said the issue cabbies raise about longtime customers being priced out by meters can be worked out during the 60- to 90-day period of D. C. Council hearings and public meetings required before the proposal is finalized.
"The strike turned out very well and was successful in getting some council members to speak with us," said Miss Seegars.
Many cabdrivers had wondered how the strike would go considering the loss of revenue after September 11. Cabbies were among the hardest hit after the terrorist attacks.
But some say they have received the least amount of aid from the city government. Many felt they could not afford to strike.
"Revenue is way down and guys need every hour they can work, but three hours was a good idea. It didn't hurt that much," said Vincent Gray, an independent taxi driver who supported the strike.
Mr. Gray, 57, said many of his friends quit. Most cabbies are working more nights now to make up the difference.
He lives on Galveston Street SE and primarily serves handicapped passengers and residents of Wards 7 and 8, the city's poorest wards. He said most of his handicapped passengers use vouchers for rides.
"I don't know if I can use the vouchers under the meter system and no one is even looking at this issue," Mr. Gray said.
Mr. Toney said the use of vouchers with meters will have to be addressed. "But Mr. Gray needs to raise that issue at one of the council hearings," he said.
He added, "The city has done everything possible to help our tourism and hospitality businesses and cabdrivers were considered in every effort."

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