While I am usually the first one to complain about D.C. cabbies and berate the cab system that relies on zoning to determine fares, I am actually starting to feel bad for the drivers. Somehow during the four-minute drive, my cab driver and I started talking about the inflated gas prices, which led naturally to a discussion about the economy. "You know how much a gallon of milk costs now?" he asked. "Three dollars?" I guessed (I cannot actually recall the last time I bought an entire gallon of milk, though I think it must have been back in college when I shared an apartment with four soccer players). "It's five dollars!" he complained. (I inquired whether he purchased this $5.00 milk from Whole Foods, but he said he hadn't). He went on to say that its not the gas prices that make him feel the pinch, but rather, when he goes home with his pay and realizes that he cannot afford as much food.
And I had always thought that high price of gas was what hurt cabbies the most. On the contrary, he told me, high gas prices help cabbies. In a city with one of the highest ratios of cabs per residents (1 per every 1000), D.C cabbies have to fight each other for customers. So when gas prices go up and more people use metro or some combination of metro and cabs, it becomes easier for cabbies to snag a fare. They can also charge an additional $1.00 during this so-called gas crisis to soften the blow.
But what is going to hurt cabs even more during this economic downturn-- and what I don't agree with-- is requiring cabs to purchase a $400 meter, as Fenty's deadline for mandatory meters is approaching. I wonder why D.C. could not alleviate the burden on cabbies' wallets by trying to get corporate sponsorship for the meters in exchange for ads (for example, like NYC did when it mandated citywide TV installation in its cabs)? I think that the zoning system is definitely a step in the right direction, but requiring cabbies to pay for the installation themselves is a step backwards. While I hate the old system of zoning, I still appreciate a dry cab on the occasional rainy night out. For a related article, check out today's Washington Post.