- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

Michael Barnes, a D.C. lobbyist who says he takes as many as 10 taxicab rides a day, is looking forward to the time when he can glance at a meter to see what he owes. Instead, he has to rely on the driver to tell him, based on how many “fare zones” he has traveled in.

“I don’t think it makes any sense,” said Mr. Barnes, 62, who has some experience with the issue.

As a Democratic congressman from Maryland in 1986, he successfully pushed to repeal a federal provision dating to 1932 that effectively banned meters in D.C. taxis.

Almost 20 years later, the District is still trying to ditch the zone system, unique among major U.S. cities, that stymies tourists and locals alike and leads to such quirks as a fare of $3 per mile for one ride and $20 per mile for another.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams and business leaders seek the change to eliminate the confusion and, they said, reduce the overcharging that occurs because drivers say what the fare is.

“We are basically a first-class convention and visitors city, except when it comes to the taxicab situation,” said Emily Durso, president of the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., and a meter proponent. “I’ve lived here all my life, and even I forget where the zone lines are.”

The city has started one of its periodic explorations of the issue. On Oct. 3, it began an eight-month test of meters in about two dozen cabs to show how the devices would affect revenue.

The study is designed only to collect information. Riders in the metered cars will still pay the zoned fare. The goal is to convince drivers who like the zone system that switching to meters won’t hurt their business.

“The city is just about too small for meters,” said Hazel Oliver, 73, a D.C. cab driver for 42 years.

The trial will help officials determine an appropriate fare before proposing legislation or regulations to require meters, which would cost about $350 per car.

Since 1986, several attempts by the city to adopt meters have failed.

“For the first time, we’re dealing with actual numbers and hard data,” said Causton Toney, a former mayoral policy director who now regulates the industry as acting D.C. Taxicab Commission chairman.

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