Wednesday, August 29, 2007

DC Should Follow NYC in Regulating Taxis

Starting February of next year all New York City taxis must accept credit cards as payment. The controversial decision to implement this change, and a bunch of others, was made by the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). The credit card decision also stipulates that the passenger be able to follow the route of the cab in real time on a GPS video map in the cab. The screen will also show advertisements during the ride (ugh). These changes come on the heels of another major announcement by the New York City government that all cabs in NYC (over 13,000) must be hybrids by 2012.

The recent decrees by the TLC haven't gone without comment or complaint, especially from drivers. Many are opposed to the measures because they fear that the owners of the fleets or individual medallion owners will pass the cost of the forced enhancements onto the drivers. Others are afraid that the new systems are too complicated and despise the credit card fees. As a passenger, you'll be able to charge ANY amount, even a $3 cab fare, of which a significant percentage will be turned over to Visa/MC, AMEX or whoever.

As for DC, I won't even try to start thinking about getting real time tracking info or credit card machines in taxis just yet; that's fantasy for us down here in little ol' nation's capital. I'm still amazed that we still have a zone system that dates from the 1930s! Maryland and Virgina cabbies use the meter. Wait... every cabbie in every other major U.S. city uses the meter. Our system is so outdated we're encouraged to use a fare calculator before in-town trips and even to do the math by hand before trips between the District and MD or VA! We can't even get on the same page as Montgomery, Prince Georges and Arlington Counties.

Sorry all you proponents of the zone system, its time to scrap it. That whole business about longer trips being cheaper with the zones is silly. If cabbies were getting ripped on longer trips with the zone system, they'd be crying to get rid of it and going on strike like they did in 2004. They were protesting the replacement of the DC Taxi Cab Commission with another, less powerful agency. Also, where are all those cabs waiting to take the Hillcrest, Brookland, or Takoma residents home after a night on the town. No way, they just decline and pick up someone who lives just across the next boundary; a quick and easy fare, then they go back for more. Not to mention all those tourists, non-confrontational locals, and college students who get overcharged since there's no definitive, clear, easy to read meter, which gives you a real price. Its like a cash register. You want to see the price clear-as-day from a '3rd party' and pay your fair share. Not a made up sum that literally changes from driver to driver for identical trips. We already pay metered rates to travel further on the Metro, so its not a novel idea.

I'm not advocating that we force drivers to install GPS or credit card machines. I love cash only, its fast and easy. But at the very least they should be asked to join the 20th century. I'll forgo trying for the 21st century. Leave that for the next guy.