- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Four D.C. companies are facing what some say is the impossible task of making sure the city”s roughly 7,000 taxis are outfitted with time-and-distance meters before a law mandating the devices takes effect next week.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday said he would not extend the May 1 deadline for cabs to have the meters or risk a $1,000 ticket. However, he said that until June 1, city officials would only issue warnings to drivers who don’t have meters.

“Now until June 1 is more than enough time to get the meters in,” said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat.

The announcement came after a D.C. Superior Court judge Monday dismissed a lawsuit brought by some taxicab drivers seeking to overturn Mr. Fenty’s October decision to turn away from the quirky zone system used to calculate fares.

Thousands of drivers waited until the court ruled on the case before investing in one of three approved time-and-distance meters, the cheapest of which costs $300.

Jeffrey O’Toole, an attorney for the cabdrivers in the lawsuit, said it would take technicians working around the clock more than a month to install meters in all the cabs that need them. He also said riders will be confused because not every cab will have them.

“What’s going to set in is some uncertainty bordering on chaos,” Mr. O’Toole said.

Roy Spooner, general manager of Yellow Cab Company in Northeast, agreed.

“Come May 1st, you will jump into a cab and not know if it’s zone or meter,” he said. “We’re going to be [using] two systems. That’s unheard of.”

Mr. Spooner said Yellow Cab’s 600-car fleet has meters that use global satellite positioning software to calculate fares based on the zone system. He said he had hoped that Mr. Fenty would grant an extension because his company is still working to determine whether the existing meters can be converted to record time and distance.

He expects today that four of his technicians will be certified to begin installing the new meters. To become certified, cab companies must apply to the D.C. Taxicab Commission and meet certain requirements, such as being bonded by the meter vendors.

Icon Cab Company and District Cab Association, both in Northeast, have been certified as well as the cab consulting company United Fleet Management.

A District Cab employee who declined to give her name said the company was booked solid for installations and was “too busy to know what time it is.”

She said the 800-cab company is installing meters on a first-come-first-served basis to drivers from any company.

Mushtaq Gilani, who owns Icon Cab Company in Northeast, said that orders for the meters are starting to come in and soon the company will be able to install “a good number” of meters each day.

Mr. Gilani said that Icon only has 20 cars and that the majority of his installations will be for other companies.

“I don’t see any reason we can’t come to the challenge and get it out of the way,” Mr. Gilani said. “It’s a learning process, but once you know what goes where, it gets easier.”

Mr. O’Toole said he still plans to appeal the ruling dismissing the cabdrivers’ lawsuit and ask the court for an injunction to prevent the city from enforcing the meter policy until the appeal is heard.

Some cabdrivers at Union Station yesterday had not resigned themselves to switching from the zone system.

Basil Chaconas, 70, of Odenton said the zone system “works perfectly.”

Mr. Chaconas, who works for Yellow Cab and has driven for 47 years, has yet to install a meter. He said rising gas prices and the change in systems will hurt cabdrivers, who mostly reject meters.

“I don’t think it’s fair to put us out of business,” Mr. Chaconas said.

Under the zone system, fares are calculated from a map consisting of 22 concentric areas that radiate out from a central downtown zone. Each time a zone boundary is crossed, the fare goes up a few dollars.

Mr. Fenty has maintained that the meters will end criticism of the complex system and bring the District in line with other major cities that use them.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the council committee with oversight of the taxicab commission, said he supported Mr. Fenty’s decision to issue warning tickets to drivers in violation of the meter regulations.

“This is just simply issuing the tickets but having them be warnings so they’re alerted to the violation,” Mr. Graham said. “This encourages them to go and get this work done.”

After May 1, the base cab fare will be $3 for the first sixth of a mile with a charge of 25 cents for every additional sixth of a mile. A 25-cent charge will be added for every minute spent stopped or traveling less than 10 mile per hour. The maximum fare in the District will be $19.

Sterling Meyers and Gary Emerling contributed to this report.

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