- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008


An attempt by taxi drivers to preserve the District’s idiosyncratic system for calculating fares failed yesterday when a judge upheld the mayor’s order for all taxis to be equipped with meters.

An attorney for the drivers said they would appeal, but the city plans to forge ahead with its May 1 deadline for meters to be installed.

Taxi fares in the District currently are based on geographic zones. Critics of the system — unique among major cities — say it’s confusing, particularly to those from out of town.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced in October that he would agree to a provision passed by Congress to abolish zones and require meters. The provision gave Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, the option to opt out of the switch, but forced him to make a choice one way or the other.

Taxi drivers opposed to meters argued in a lawsuit that Mr. Fenty had no right to require the change over the authority of a taxicab commission that sets rules and fares. D.C. Superior Court Judge Brook Hedge rejected that claim.

“Congress required the mayor to make an affirmative decision to implement a meter system or not,” Judge Hedge said.

The judge added, “If the mayor’s decision was not to opt out, then he had the responsibility to ensure that the law be executed, which meant implementing a meter system for taxicabs.”

Many taxi drivers had been waiting for the court’s decision before paying the estimated $350 to have a meter installed.

The new taxi rules are still set to go into effect May 1, said Fenty spokeswoman Carrie Brooks. The mayor plans an announcement today to explain the steps necessary to implement the change. City officials have said drivers who have not installed meters by the deadline will face a $1,000 fine every time they’re caught picking up riders without meters.

Jeffrey O’Toole, a lawyer representing the drivers coalition that sued, said the deadline should be postponed pending the appeal.

“The meters cannot possibly be installed by May 1,” he said.

Drivers have resisted the switch for fear that they will lose business. They think the meter system will make long rides more expensive. Many also worry that meters will make it easier for big companies to dominate the business, forcing out many independent operators.

Drivers have held several strikes since the change was announced in October.

William Wright, president of the Taxicab Industry Group, which helped organize the strikes, said drivers are still hopeful that the D.C. Council will pass legislation calling for zone-based meters rather than the time-and-distance meters chosen by Mr. Fenty. Zone-based meters would be similar to the current system, but the fares would be calculated by a machine using the Global Positioning System and would be documented with a receipt.

Mr. Wright said many riders won’t be able to afford to take taxis under Mr. Fenty’s plan.

“We are trying to protect the public as well as ourselves,” he said. “This issue has brought cabdrivers together like nothing I’ve ever seen because they know they’re going to be put out of business.”

The rates for the meter include a $3 base fee and 25 cents for every one-sixth of a mile traveled after the first sixth of a mile. A 25-cent charge will be added for every minute spent stopped or traveling less than 10 miles per hour. The maximum fare for all trips within the city will be $19.

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