- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

The first meters began appearing in taxicabs in the District on Monday, but local officials said it could be next summer before they determine whether to dump the longtime zone system in favor of meters.

The District for decades has allowed cabdrivers to charge based upon a system that divides the city into eight zones. Aside from being allowed $1 rush-hour surcharges, fares are set based upon travel within a single or multiple zones, without any consideration for time or distance.

“When a driver is sitting in traffic at a stoplight, he’s not earning any additional income,” said Dante Scott, manager of the Taxicab Information Project, which is conducting the research.

“We don’t know what type of money drivers are losing, or if they are losing money under the zone system,” Mr. Scott said. The meters have switches allowing drivers to charge extra for multiple passengers or luggage.

The eight-month trial involves about 20 of the 6,500 cabs operating in the District.

Analysts from Howard and George Washington universities and the University of the District of Columbia are expected to release their draft study for public review by midsummer. That could determine whether cabbies will have to install meters in their vehicles, at a cost of about $300 each.

A task force appointed by the mayor recommended two years ago that the city consider replacing its zone system with meters, to ensure less confusion. The District is one of the few major cities in the nation where meters are not required.

All major cab companies operating in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland use meters, including suburban cabs serving the area’s three major airports.

Mr. Scott said the zone system has been particularly confusing to visitors who might not be familiar with the city. The zones are represented on a city map by a series of rings emanating from the U.S. Capitol.

“Anyone from any part of the U.S. who hops into a taxicab is going to find the zone system unfamiliar,” he said. Although the meters will calculate fares, placards in the cabs will explain the test and authorize drivers to continue collecting fares based upon the zone system.

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