Cab fares up, bad service unchanged

Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

It may cost more to get there, but the D.C. cab ride remains the same.

Taxi rates in the District jumped two weeks ago from $1.50 a mile to $2.16, but the improvements in service that business leaders and others thought cabbies should provide in exchange for the higher fees -- including GPS navigation, credit card payments and newer vehicles -- won't be seen for many months, if ever.

And that's frustrating riders.

"The people I talk to are taking more public transit, are no longer tipping or are taking Uber [a town car service]," said Jack Jacobson, spokesman for consumer watchdog DC Taxi Watch.

Not all cabs are charging the new rates. It will take weeks until all drivers can have their taxi meters recalibrated to reflect the higher fees. But DC Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton said he expects 85 percent of all cabs in the city to be charging the new rates by the end of this week.

D.C. workers and residents downtown and in Dupont Circle on Wednesday were annoyed or ambivalent about the fare hike, but they were uniformly impatient for better service.

"It's terrible to get into a cab and have to tell them where to go," said Larry Cirignano, who works near McPherson Square and accepts the higher fares given the current high prices for gas. "I've had multiple times they've taken me to the wrong quadrant. Or they don't know where a Metro station is."

District business leaders called on city officials to tie any fare increase to improved service by the city's 8,000 cabs, including allowing credit card payments, requiring better driver training and forcing older cabs out of service. They cited complaints about drivers who were unfamiliar with city streets or surly and cabs that are dirty or on the verge of breaking down.

But the D.C. Council won't take up legislation mandating better service until the end of this year. And a separate proposal to get rid of any cabs older than five years is still in the works.

Still, not everyone is griping about cabbies.

D.C. resident Togzhan Kassenova said she's grown sympathetic since learning from cab drivers that many of them don't have employer-provided health insurance and that they earn less than cabbies in other cities.

"I think people in this city complain a lot -- the riders," Kassenova said. "But we should also look at it from the cab drivers' perspective. It's not the easiest city to drive in."

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