DC’s Taxi System Hikes Fees, Frustrations
The price of a DC cab ride went up big time recently and neither riders nor cabbies are happy.
I discovered the fare hike this morning when a ride from my office to an appearance on Fox Live that previously set me back an even $10 with generous tip was suddenly that much outright. Wondering what the deal was–the driver hadn’t taken a particularly circuitous route–I learned that prices had gone up, rather dramatically, over the weekend.
The Washington Post (“D.C. taxi fare hike starts Saturday“):
Whether taking a cab to the Hill or past the Beltway, residents and visitors alike may be surprised to find that their wallets are a little lighter.
Beginning Saturday, the taxi mileage rate will increase to $2.16 per mile from $1.50. Taxis will still charge a base fare of $3.
Some cabdrivers said they are concerned that the new D.C. Taxicab Commission regulations will affect not their profits but their passengers. John, a driver who asked to remain anonymous to protect his job, said the fare increase takes away the incentive for picking up large groups of passengers or those with suitcases.
Under the new regulations, a $1-per-passenger fee may be charged for the second, third and fourth members of a group riding in a van. The maximum additional passenger fee is $3 per trip, which John said would leave groups of five or six customers on the curb.
The folks at WTOP did the math: “Taxi fares in DC going up by 44 percent.”
So, the average cab user–a single individual hopping across town without any luggage–will pay substantially more but cabbies fear losing money on groups and those with suitcases.
Not surprisingly, people are bitching. Liz Essley for The Examiner (“Cab fares up, bad service unchanged“):
Taxi rates in the District jumped two weeks ago from $1.50 a mile to $2.16, but the improvements in service that business leaders and others thought cabbies should provide in exchange for the higher fees — including GPS navigation, credit card payments and newer vehicles — won’t be seen for many months, if ever.
And that’s frustrating riders.
“The people I talk to are taking more public transit, are no longer tipping or are taking Uber [a town car service],” said Jack Jacobson, spokesman for consumer watchdog DC Taxi Watch.
D.C. workers and residents downtown and in Dupont Circle on Wednesday were annoyed or ambivalent about the fare hike, but they were uniformly impatient for better service.
“It’s terrible to get into a cab and have to tell them where to go,” said Larry Cirignano, who works near McPherson Square and accepts the higher fares given the current high prices for gas. “I’ve had multiple times they’ve taken me to the wrong quadrant. Or they don’t know where a Metro station is.”
District business leaders called on city officials to tie any fare increase to improved service by the city’s 8,000 cabs, including allowing credit card payments, requiring better driver training and forcing older cabs out of service. They cited complaints about drivers who were unfamiliar with city streets or surly and cabs that are dirty or on the verge of breaking down.
But the D.C. Council won’t take up legislation mandating better service until the end of this year. And a separate proposal to get rid of any cabs older than five years is still in the works.
The DC cabs are atrocious by the standards of other major cities is a widespread view.
PostLocal’s Petula Dvorak titled her column “D.C.’s taxis: Third-class rides in a world-class city just got pricier.”
We’ve got cheeky, red bikes zipping across the region. One of cleanest Metro systems around. Super-cute Smart Cars scattered across town that you can rent by the minute with the swipe of a card. And buses that crisscross the city.
Short of a monorail or molecular transporters, the D.C. area is looking pretty modern on the public transportation front, pedicabs aside.
That’s why it’s just kind of fun sometimes to take a cab, when I’m yearning for a trip to Cairo or wanting to relive the memories of a harrowing afternoon in rural China.
D.C. taxis are there to give you that developing world experience.
Uncertain pay rates, rude drivers dodging through traffic with lots of dubious twists and turns, the drone of an incessant phone conversation that you’re not part of, the smells of a pungent lunch filling the hot cab.
Having lived most of my life in the suburbs and therefore driving myself most places, I don’t spend much time in cabs. But I have taken taxis all over the world, in first world and third world cities, and DC has the worst quality vehicles in their cab fleet that I’ve encountered–certainly when adjusted for the median local non-taxi automobile on the road. I’ve generally found the cabbies to be friendly and the vehicles non-smelly but, yes, they do seem to have brought third world driving craziness with them. And for someone habituated to driving in the DC Metro area to notice how crazy the driving requires some doing. And, yes, too many of them do so while yapping on their cell phones–usually via bluetooth.
DCist (“Unfare? D.C. Taxicab Commission Approves Fare Hikes, Will Go Into Effect By May“) piles on, leading off with, “Those mediocre D.C. cab rides just got a little more expensive.”
On the other hand, as Dvorak acknowledges, the new rates still put DC in the national median.
Now granted, D.C. taxis were probably too cheap at one time. Compare us with 39 other cities on cab fares and you’ll see we used to be the cheapest. Now we are somewhere in the middle, less expensive than Honolulu but significantly pricier than Cincinnati.
Further, as TBD reports (“Unhappiness abounds as D.C. taxis raise fares and face modernization“), cabbies are feeling squeezed.
D.C. residents may not be thrilled with the fare increases slowly taking effect throughout the District’s taxicab drivers but neither are the drivers — the 8,250 local taxi drivers are growing increasingly frustrated with both how the modernization initiatives are unfolding and the fight to make a living.
“We are asking them to abide by the law, to be fair,” said Haimanot Bizuayehu of the Small Business Association of D.C. Taxicab Drivers.
Bizuayehu told me that driver income has fallen by around a third over the last four years. He questions whether the new fares will even help. The per-mile taxicab rate may have risen from $1.50 to $2.16, he says, but the way the Commission shifted other fees creates a situation where drivers will still fight to earn a living. The D.C. Taxicab Commission acknowledges a drop in driver income of at least 20-30% in income from the conversion from a zoned to metered system in recent years.
Forcing cabbies to have state-of-the art vehicles, complete with GPS navigation systems and credit card machines, will either require substantial fare increases or come out of the hide of cabbies. Neither option is good. Oh, and cabbies are already having to pay steep fees to get their meters certified on a regular basis. And I’m guessing a lot of riders, accustomed to paying a given rate for a trip they take with some regularity, are tipping less, too.
DC is simply a hard town to get around. The subways are pretty good–by subway standards, at least–during peak periods but large swaths of the city have no Metro access. Off peak, the wait times can be absurd. The buses are, well, buses. Driving oneself from point to point is not only prohibitively time consuming but parking in many parts of town during the day is either impossible or outrageously expensive. Which is why I tend to park my car in the parking garage by the office and either walk or cab it for business in town during the day. And, well, cabbing just got more expensive.
It’s frustrating. Then again, I don’t know whether the situation is substantially better in other comparable metropolitan areas. I’ve been to more than my fair share but only as a short-term visitor. How much of this is a function of the legendary incompetence of DC government, how much is a vestige of DC’s bizarre tax and regulatory structure that comes with being a creature of Congress, and how much is just the unavoidable infrastructure issues that come with a teeming city is beyond my expertise.
An only tangentially related aside: the DC cab system was the ostensible subject of a truly awful 1983 movie starring Mr. T, Adam Baldwin, Bill Maher, and others.