Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Metric System

So, while we were out, Mayor Fenty basically all but assured that he will go down in history of some-sort of DC Mayoral combination of Harriet Tubman, FDR and Batman (or maybe just Hawkman...don't want to oversell it) by doing something that everyone in their right mind has wanted done to Washington since I was knee-high to something that was slightly taller than a younger version of me--abolish the insipid taxi cab zone system, in favor of meters, which is what the rest of goddamned modern world uses in taxis. What could Fenty possibly do to not go down in history favorably? Had George W. Bush found a way to rid the city of the cursed zones, we'd all be saying "SHUT THE HELL UP, poltergeists of our war dead! It now doesn't cost me a half-dozen different amounts to go from Dupont to Silver Spring! ZOMGS! Bush for Nobel Peace Prize! Bush for King of the Ocean!"

Virtually everyone agrees that this is a good idea. It's one of the few things that even some of our areas more poo-poo bedecked diptards think is a good idea. I had to laugh at some of the coverage of it though. One local FOX news teaser put it like this, "With the stroke of a pen, Mayor Adrian Fenty changes one of DC's longstanding regulations." Such melodrama! You'd think the Mayor was invalidating the Magna Carta or something.

Naturally, the cabbies are all aggrieved that their precious, incomprehensible zone system has been taken from them. Apparently, a city-wide taxi strike is planned for Halloween night, but seeing as the zone system has a negligible level of public support, it looks as if the cabbies will be doing little more than hurting their own bottom line. The cabbies, from what I gather, are trying to make a case that the meter system will undermine their traditions of being independent businessmen, but it seems a little too late to be encouraging potential riders to make those sorts of decisions. I haven't the faintest clue why the meter system precludes the current ownership model, and I think Matt hits the nail right on the head when he says:

In DC, by contrast, it's much cheaper and easier to get a cab up and running so they're mostly owner-operated. Tadesse and many other cab drivers feel that letting the mayor impose the meter will somehow undue this system. But it's not clear exactly why they think that, so it's hard to know what kind of policies could assuage those fears while simultaneously letting us enjoy the bounty of the meter.

All, too true, and anyway, I ask you: I'm supposed to get wistful for their lost business traditions when those traditions contained the ever-present, never-properly-defused perception that the very system they're asking me to support the retention of was nothing more than a convenient way to obfuscate travel costs and scam the customers? Sorry, no dice. The cab drivers have had ample opportunity to combat the poor perception of the zone system, years to make its vagaries clear and to breed a consumer base amenable to their particular wants and needs. But they sat on their ass, living large on the zone system, and have found themselves at the endgame without having built a foundation of customer loyalty and trust. Whose fault is that?

I'm looking forward to seeing a meter in cabs throughout the city. You should be too!


Mike Licht said...

Cabbies want to keep zones because they can hide cash from the taxman using handwritten manifests. The rest of their arguments are simply blowing smoke.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, is the zone system that hard to understand? Any DC resident with half a wit can figure it out in approximately five minutes. Additionally, there is a fare calculator available on dc.gov...I'm sure that some clueless suburbanites can get confused by the system, but who cares?

JonboyDC said...

I really don't have a preference between zones and meters, but I've been shocked at how many DC residents claims the zone system is too hard to figure out. I've been equally surprised at hearing people say completely wrong things about the zone system (including the widely expressed belief that it's somehow relevant how many zones you travel through, as opposed to the difference between the beginning and ending zone). Are people that stupid? This is not rocket science. (I've also only ever had one or two cabbies quote an incorrect fare, but maybe that's because I'm obviously not a moron so they don't try to screw with me).

I am looking forward to the first complaints under the meter system that the drivers are picking longer routes to drive up the fares. Because that's one of the problems that the zone system solves.

James said...

The zone system doesn't so much encourage independent cab ownership as is discourages large cab companies. In a zone system, there is pretty much no way to track the fares and therefore cab companies would have to totally trust the drivers on where they drove and when. Not to besmirch the credibility of cabbies, but that isn't the best business model...

Anonymous said...

"Seriously, is the zone system that hard to understand?"

Oh it's easy to understand. It's also easy to understand that having 3 cab rides of the exact same distance and duration that cost 6.50, 8.80, and 11.00 respectively is a bunch of horse shit.

Anonymous said...

"Any DC resident with half a wit can figure it out in approximately five minutes."

And in five minutes you can understand that the system is completely asinine. The cost of the trip should be relative to the length of the ride. You shouldn't have to pay 6.50 to go five blocks (or 8.80 if it happens to be aribitrarily on the other side of a zone).

Zone apologists like to point out "oh if you just understand the system you can take advantage of it", but that's horseshit. For one thing, if any trip costs 6.50 (plus random surcharges) than it's tough to say you're taking advantage of anything.

Second, a cab system shouldn't be designed to discourage people asking for what they want. If you want to go from point A to point B, you should ask for that, and not be charged an arm and a leg just because point B is across some imaginary line.

This is all similar to the argument stock traders made when they switched from fractions to decimals on the NYSE. The less "granular" a rate is, the more ends up in the pocket of the intermediary.

So yeah, someone can understand the system and still think it's stupid and worth dumping.

But we shouldn't celebrate just yet. The real fight is going to be over the meter rates and more specifically what the "drop" rate is (i.e. the base rate). If we end up with a base rate above 6 bucks, then we will have accomplished little.

JonboyDC said...

Yeah, it sucks that the same distance rides can cost different amounts. But under a meter system, it sucks that a driver can take a long, roundabout route and drive your fare up (which is admittedly a problem for visitors, not people who know their way around.)

And I hope like hell we do have a base fare that's close to the current lowest fare. Switching from zones to meters is about increasing certainty and making trips of the same distance cost the same amount. It's not about forcing cab drivers to take a pay cut. If you don't want to pay $6 for a short ride, walk your lazy, cheap ass to your destination.

Anonymous said...

"It's not about forcing cab drivers to take a pay cut."

Yes it is, if it's shown that they're making more than similiarly situated cabbies in other cities.

The drop rate should be about 3-4 bucks if you ask me.

"If you don't want to pay $6 for a short ride, walk your lazy, cheap ass to your destination."

As I argued above, zone apologists want us to conform our trips around the needs of the cabbies, rather than vice versa. If you want to go five blocks (which could be for a lot of reasons besides laziness, you asshole. It could be because of a disability, the weather, lateness, etc.) you ought to pay an amount commensurate with the ride.

For too long the system has been designed to ensure employability for people who want to be cab drivers. The cab system should be about getting people around, not serving as a jobs program for exurbanites.

Anonymous said...

Maybe then those douchebags won't run me down as they use the CROSSWALK at Union Station as a shortcut into the pickup lane.