- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2001

A 25 percent increase in zone fare for D.C. taxicabs, which took effect on Friday, is favored by some cabdrivers, but others want a solution that wont price lower-income residents out of the market.
The D.C. Taxicab Commission passed the increase last June, said Sandra Seegars, a taxicab commissioner. She said that among the reasons for the boost were high and unstable gas prices, the cost of newer cars, safety equipment and the cost of living.
"We felt that the drivers needed an increase because they havent had one in five years," said Mrs. Seegars. She also said that Commission Chairman Lee Williams felt commissioners were putting too much pressure on the drivers.
Where the base fare to enter a cab in the District previously was $4, the new fare is $5, and for each of the eight zones crossed the price will go up 25 percent. For instance, taking a cab from U Street NW in Ward 1 to L Street NW in Ward 2 — crossing one zone — will cost $6.90
"My main concern is that low-income residents will be priced out of the cab service," said cabdriver Nathan Price, whose opinion is shared by Mrs. Seegars. But fellow driver Albert Holley, who at first took the same position, has done an about-face.
"I was one of those drivers who thought at first that the increase was too high because it would force out lower-income residents," Mr. Holley said. Now, after seeing the numbers by zone, he says, "Our lower-income residents will be hurt, there is no question, but we have to live and feed our families."
Mrs. Seegars believes poor residents will be more apt to catch the bus or subway, "which isnt fair, but it would be more unfair to have our drivers spend all of their earnings on their cars and gas, leaving nothing for themselves."
For almost a year the Taxicab Commission added an emergency gas surcharge as gas prices began to destabilize.
"We did the emergency surcharge for three times at 120 days each," Mrs. Seegars said. The first surcharge was 50 cents, the second 75 cents, and the third, for the period which ended April 30, was $1.
But it still wasnt enough to forestall the rate increase, which the commission predicted early on would be necessary.
For example, under the new fares, the most expensive cab ride would be from the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Alaska Avenue, along the District line in Ward 4, to the intersection of Livingston Road and South Capitol Street in Southeast along the District line. That trip crosses six zones and would cost no more than $15.60, Mrs. Seegars said.
"Considering the national averages, this city will still have near the lowest cab fares in the country," she said.
Mr. Price, 57, who has been a cabdriver in the District for 29 years, said the increase is a year behind schedule. "We talked to the commission in 1999 about an increase, but they stalled us," he said.
He said he would really like to see the administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams give more jurisdictional protection to D.C. cabdrivers.
"We need this government to protect us from Maryland and Virginia drivers, and the Dulles and National Airport Super Shuttles. The Maryland and Virginia drivers shouldnt be here at all," Mr. Price said.
The Super Shuttle is a major sore spot for the drivers because shuttle drivers have the right to enter hotels and solicit business, but cabdrivers are forced to wait in their car until a fare shows up.


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