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One would think that the U.s. Senator who serves as the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee and is also a ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, Senator Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, would be concentrating on matters of graver import to the security of the United States than whether taxicabs in our city charge fares based on meters or zones. This reminds us of the old, old days when the U.S. Congress actually devoted real time to enacting local laws and regulations, including such gems as the famous anti-kite flying rule. Does the Senator pine for the days when he won election to the Detroit City Council in 1969 and advanced to become its president in 1973? Maybe that was his true calling and he is now seeking to relive those glory years!

Our own Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham is, of course, absolutely correct to have characterized the Senator’s action in engineering Congressional legislation to force the city to decide by the middle of next month whether to have meters as an “outrageous intrusion.” We became even more outraged when we learned that the Senator stuck his sticky finger into this mess because one of his staffers had an argument with a driver over a fare! We say, butt out of our purely local affairs. It took us too long to get as far as we have with this home rule business; we expect better from a member of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

And, we ask, what is so terrible about our city’s peculiar zone fare system? Just because no other municipality does things this way is no reason to have the United States Congress –- or any other gang for that matter –- insist it must be changed. If it is to be changed it must be our decision alone and it must be shown that a change to a mileage and time metering system will actually be better for all concerned.

We do know that the big national cab fleet companies definitely believe meters are better, but the question has to be asked: better for whom? The answer has always been better for those companies because metered cabs have been their meal ticket for successfully monopolizing a local cab industry and driving the little independent guys out of business. If we DC residents who so extensively use taxis want to drive out the little guys and bring in the big boys, if we are comfortable with yet another round of giveaways to the corporate guys like we are seeing with our public lands and buildings, then maybe it will happen. But, keep in mind that taxis are common carriers that are supposed to operate in the public interest, like busses and subways. We have a right to expect that our government officials will not be willing to enrich their corporate money buddies with yet more goodies at the expense of the citizens.

We hear much talk about how the present zone system is subject to abuse, how riders get cheated by drivers who play fast and loose by charging whatever they think they can get away with; presumably tourists are more likely to be entrapped than us locals by the Byzantine nature of the zone boundaries and the not-too-helpful maps. This is not an altogether unreasonable objection about the present system. We have been heavy users of taxis in DC since the Kennedy Administration and can attest to occasional discrepancies and errors in what is being charged –- although we will say that for the times we may have been overcharge (rarely in our experience) we probably have had those overcharges balanced out by the times we have actually been undercharged; drivers do make inadvertent errors, and not always in their favor.

Having acknowledged this business about the system being susceptible to overcharging, we also say that rather than scrap the system we should instead opt for the zone meter system which has already undergone what by all accounts has been very successful testing. Zone metering would retain the present system and at the same time ensure accuracy and allay everyone’s (tourists included) concerns about possible cheating.

But before we leave the issue of alleged cheating on fares, it should be kept in mind that the use of mileage and time meters does not guarantee there will be no cheating. Quite the contrary, especially when it comes to tourists or others visiting on business who may not be familiar with whatever city they have hailed one of those traditional metered cabs in: It is not at all uncommon for such hapless souls to be driven in circuitous routes so that the meter runs up more distance than would otherwise have been justified. And it is not always obvious when this is happening, especially in places where there are lots of one-way streets and a visitor really doesn’t know that there is no need to go 4 blocks south just to get to point A when a local might very well know that a quick cut through a nearby alley could save a quarter mile on the meter. No, traditional meters are no panacea.

So, when all is said and done, Mr. Mayor, we strongly urge you to rule for zone meters.