In the Zone

The Washington Post carries a story this morning about proposals to change the D.C. taxicab system by requiring meters on all cabs.
As the Post story notes, D.C. is one of the only cities in the country where it’s still possible to make it as an independent taxi driver. The current system, in fact, is in almost perfect balance: it provides a decent income for taxi drivers, lower fares for Congress and staffs–who can go from the Hill to K street on while still paying the lowest fare–and reasonable fares for people who live in outlying neighborhoods. All this happens because of the “zone system.” Instead of paying based on strict distance traveled, one pays for taxi trips based on imaginary dividing lines throughout the city. In a few cases, this produces silly results–the trip from the Hart Senate Office Building to the SEC building three blocks away costs more than the trip from the same building to K street three miles away–but mostly, it works.

Putting meters into taxis would have a number of perverse consequences: it would likely discourage the use of cabs for some longer trips (taken mostly by the poor) while encouraging use for quick runs around downtown. It might benefit tourists–who drivers can easily cheat under the current system–but hardly anyone else would gain. This is a case where the status quo just works.