- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

(AP) — Travelers coming in the District today by train and airplanes are waiting as long as 30 minutes for a taxi as drivers embarked on a 24-hour Halloween strike to protest the mayor’s decision to require meters in cabs.

At Union Station, the city’s Amtrak station, the line for taxis reached several dozen people as morning trains from New York City and other points arrived. A dispatcher called out destinations to encourage people to share the scarce cabs, and unlicensed drivers trolled the back of the line for potential passengers.

At downtown hotels, doormen said they were steering more of their business to limousine companies to fill the gap.

It was unclear exactly how many cab drivers were participating in the strike. Officials with the Taxicab Industry Group, one of several organizations representing drivers, had predicted a majority of the city’s roughly 7,500 drivers would stay off the streets on Halloween, a traditionally high-volume day.

But Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, said the city would have no trouble managing. He said the District “has some transportation alternatives,” for commuters and tourists, including the Metro subway system and buses.

Paula Ong, of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., arrived at Union Station, just blocks from Capitol Hill, at about 9 a.m. for a meeting in Northern Virginia. Standing in the taxi line, Miss Ong said she was unaware of the strike until a reporter told her.

“Hence the long line,” she said.

Miss Ong also said she might consider alternatives to taxis during her visit. Just then, a man approached people at the back of the line. “Anyone going to Virginia?” he asked.

“Yeah, Virginia,” Miss Ong said, and followed him to his car.

Those who stayed in line ended up waiting more than half an hour to get into a cab. Taxis licensed in Virginia and Maryland can drive people to D.C., but are not allowed to pick up fares in the city.

At the Phoenix Park Hotel, a few hundred yards from Union Station, doorman Jerry Agenar said he called several limo companies last night to cover the morning rush for people headed to the airport.

At the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, head doorman Carleton Richards said he also steered some business to limos. In general, though, he was finding cabs could be found with a little patience.

Compared D.C.’s last taxi strike in 2004, “I would say this one is a lot more manageable,” Mr. Richards said.

That strike was just 12 hours long, but the issue was the same. Then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, was planning a pilot program to put meters in cabs to end the city’s longtime fare system, in which the price of a ride depends on geographic zones.

Mr. Williams did not end up doing away with the much-criticized zone system, but Mr. Fenty has said he will. He announced Oct. 17 that he will go along with a provision passed by Congress to abolish zones and require meters like those used in every other major U.S. city. The provision gave him the option to opt out of the switch, but forced him to make a choice one way or the other.

However, the details of the change have not been worked out.

Many taxi drivers fear they will lose business under the change, which is expected to make long rides more expensive. They also say it will make it easier for big companies to dominate the business, forcing out many independent operators.

Taxi drivers in New York City have held two strikes this fall. The walkouts there were a response to new regulations that require the installation of new equipment that would let passengers watch TV, pay with credit cards and check their location using a global-positioning system. Those strikes did not cause major disruptions.

The true test of how bad the D.C. strike is could come in the evening, as Halloween revelers look for rides to and from parties.

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