D.C. taxis: Riding wisely

"An $11 trip turned into a $27 disaster," freshman John McDonald said, recalling a cab ride that ended badly one weekend.

McDonald and a group of his friends, fresh from a club, exited what seemed to be just another taxi ride, when a wet splattering noise destroyed the normalcy. One passenger's stomach contents from a night of partying pooled on the vinyl, and the passengers saw their fare jump by $50. Luckily, when McDonald did not have the cash to cover his friend's vomit fee the driver was satisfied to take whatever money he had in his wallet.

The reasons for surprise costs aren't always this clear. Some students are surprised by the price at the end of a ride. Extra charges for each passenger carried, rush hour traffic, baggage and radio-dispatched trips can often be more than expected.

The most common way costs grow is traveling across zones in D.C.'s unique meter-free system. Eight-year District taxi driver and AU cab kiosk regular Miel Domina said that passengers ignorant of zoning could be exploited.

"If they don't know what's going on, why not give them a little tour of the city? I see the temptation to drive through out-of-the-way zones but not many of us do it," Domina said. The reality is that many students are unaware of how the system works, even if they utilize it regularly, he said.

"I've ridden a lot and I don't have any idea of the zones. I could definitely get screwed and not know it," sophomore Danny Costunzo said. Area regulations are clear that signs explaining the zones must be posted in the cab. However, many exceptions to the rule are zooming around the streets.

Exploitation is not a one-way street. Passengers who know the zones can take the driver for a ride, too. Walking a few blocks to enter a zone and then exiting just before another begins can turn a cross-town journey into an inexpensive trip.

Students coming from cities with different systems raise questions about why D.C.'s confusing cab operations even exist.

"In New York City, you can just see your meter running; the only thing to guess about is how little you can get away with tipping the driver," freshman Melinda Camacho said.

The flat rate is one of the few concretes in an inconsistent system. Sophomore Emily Clark took two identical trips one night and experienced, much to her vexation, a $3 fare difference.

"The drivers think about it for two seconds and then they are like, $13. They just make it up," Clark said. The pause before announcing the final cost allows drivers to judge her taxi-passenger inexperience and ability to pay, Clark said.

Though practically every student will spend some time squeezed in the backseat of a cab while at AU, the experience does not have to be a financial guessing game. Question an unfair fare, watch the zones, get a price estimate and hopefully everything will be good to go when the final brake lights glow.

Smart taxi skills Even those who don't know the taxi zones can be informed passengers.

  • 1. Give a quick call to the cab company to get an idea of what the fare will be before taking the ride. Airport Access (202) 498-8708 Barwood Taxicab (202) 829-4222 Best Cab (202) 265-7834 Capitol Cab (202) 546-1974 Diamond Cab (202) 387-2221 Dulles Cab (202) 333-3385 Globe Cab (202) 232-3700

  • 2. Ask the driver for an estimate before taking a seat to prevent the driver from changing his mind or dealing the rider a final shock.

  • 3. Call the rider-oriented D.C. Taxicab Commission at (202) 645-6018 and ask for a price quote.

    - MOLLY NORRIS

    Never miss a story

    Get our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox.

    More from The Eagle