- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

After decades of a cryptic zone system that thwarts the best efforts of tourists to calculate cab fare from Union Station to the Smithsonian, the panel charged with recommending whether the city should shift to meters yesterday reached a consensus: Let the mayor decide.

The eight-member D.C. Taxicab Commission was expected to tell Mayor Adrian M. Fenty that the District should either switch to meters or stay with the zone system. But after a series of defeated motions and hours of debate, members remained deadlocked.

“We took what, eight votes? [We’re] really putting it back in the hands of the mayor,” commission Chairman Leon Swain Jr. said. “You have people with very strong opinions, and they were not willing to move from those opinions.”

The mayor has until Oct. 17 to act, a spokesman said. Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, last year placed a provision in D.C. legislation that forces Mr. Fenty to require the switch to meters by next month. However, the mayor may also opt out by executive order. A spokesman for Mr. Fenty said before the vote yesterday that the mayor would give “great weight” to the commission’s decision.

The commission considered several options to forward to Mr. Fenty, including switching to standard time-distance meters used in most other major cities or moving to a zone-fare meter that uses a Global Positioning System and calculates fares based on the zones.

Both options were vehemently opposed by taxi drivers in attendance, who even went as far as calling for a taxicab strike.

Cab driver Billy Ray Edwards spoke for the ad hoc Concerned D.C. Taxi Drivers Association and urged cabbies to strike on Oct. 1 in protest of meters.

“No meters; no GPS. Shut the city down,” Mr. Edwards shouted.

E.J. Chubbs and other drivers expressed concern about the costs of a zone-fare meter and the specifics of operating such a system.

“Who can I get my meter from? Can I own my meter? Do I have to rent my meter?” said Mr. Chubbs, an independent cab driver. “I want to know what it’s going to do to me as a small-business man.”

Commission member Sandra C. Allen, a former D.C. Council member, advocated the zone-meters as a compromise and said time-and-distance meters force low-income residents east of the Anacostia River to pay higher fees for trips across town.

“The day has come that we know there is going to be a meter system in the District of Columbia,” Mrs. Allen said. “I do not want to leave it blank and have time-distance meters shoved down our throats.”

But commission member Thomas E. Heinemann said a properly calibrated time-distance meter could solve problems for low-income residents and tourists alike.

“A lot of times, you’re asking passengers to be a cartographer,” Mr. Heinemann said of the District’s current zone system. “That’s a big burden for residents of this city.”

A poll of D.C. cab riders by Zogby International taken in lieu of a public meeting scheduled for Aug. 1 showed that residents were almost evenly split on replacing the zone system, with 48 percent of those surveyed agreeing the system should be replaced and 49 percent disagreeing.

A separate survey of D.C. cab drivers showed that only 177 of 686 respondents were not in favor of meters, and more than 320 drivers supported a switch to zone meters.

After a series of unsuccessful votes, Mrs. Allen moved to have Mr. Fenty look at a section in the city’s municipal regulations that states a cab “may be equipped with a device that computes fares” based on zone charges.

Members adopted the resolution — which also directed Mr. Fenty to review the current zone rates and boundaries — 5-0 with three abstentions.

Mrs. Allen viewed the vote as a victory and said it effectively asked the mayor to put zone meters in cabs. But Mr. Heinemann said the vote essentially rendered the commission’s recommendation a no-decision.

“We voted to analyze the [regulations],” he said. “We punted on a motion that makes no sense.”

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