Does it pay to drive cab in d.c. – the washington post gas prices going up to 5 dollars


The District of Columbia implemented a new meter system and fares three years ago, and today few, if any, major U.S. cities offer such a sweet deal for the riding public. On the other hand, as Frankel, 58, and his cabbies have argued loudly ever since, the flipside is that cabbies are being shortchanged with virtually every fare.

The price of a taxicab ride in the District ranks among the lowest for major U.S. cities, according to a survey by The Washington Post. They’re lower than any surrounding jurisdiction, too. And, unlike many cities that limit competition through licensing, the District generally has ensured a plentiful supply of cabs and cabbies.

The result is the kind of grimly efficient system that economists often tout: Prices are low for consumers, and while cabbies might complain, there are plenty of people still willing to get into the business. It does, after all, offer flexible hours and independence. Most of them work as independent contractors who lease or own their own cabs.

But whatever the virtues of cheap cab rides, the rate change has stirred the ire of the city’s roughly 8,500 cabbies, many of them African Americans and immigrants from Ethiopia, Pakistan and Iran. Since the meter system replaced the old “zone” system in 2008, their earnings have dropped about 30 percent, they say, forcing them them to work longer hours , sacrifice time with their families and endure the aches and ill health that come with them.

“We sit for hours at a time — 12 hours a day — and we don’t have time for exercise,” Nathan Price, chairman of the D.C. Professional Taxicab Drivers Association, told city officials in remarks that echo across the city’s fleet. “Having less money means it’s harder to eat right. When you’re working longer hours, you don’t have time to see your family. The stress keeps adding up. And it’s killing us.”

The cabbies, as a result, are calling for solutions that many market economists consider abominations: Even though there’s no shortage of people willing to work as cabbies, they want the D.C. government to raise fares. Some, moreover, are calling for restrictions on the supply of cabs or drivers. In Frankel’s terms, this would mean fewer fishermen.

He spends $180 a week for the lease, which includes $35 in liability insurance. He usually drives about six days a week, so that’s about $30 a day. He spends about $35 a day in gas. His yearly taxi/limo license costs $125. So on a daily basis, that cost is negligible.

“I would say a price is effective — not sure about fair — if at that price, enough people on both sides of a market are happy with the outcome,” said Russell Roberts, an economics professor at George Mason University. “The fact that thousands of people are eager to drive cabs under the current fare structure suggests that it is sufficiently generous to cabbies.”

In fact, the city a few years ago imposed a moratorium on new licenses for cab drivers. If the city began accepting applications again, D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairperson Ron M. Linton said, “we’d have 1,000 people lining up to become cabbies.”

Moreover, the existing rates offer what the District ordinances consider a “living wage.” In its laws regulating what contractors must pay their employees, the District has defined the “living wage” as $12.50 an hour, and the taxicab rate appears to be roughly in line with that.

Indeed, the shift to meters from the old zone system, which often baffled riders, was long overdue by most accounts. The basic rate is now easier for most passengers to understand: $3.oo for the first sixth of a mile, and then $1.50 per mile afterward, plus waiting time.

Fair or not, Fenty might have lost his bid for reelection in the back seats of the District’s cabs. The ire of the cabbies was intense enough that they printed thousands of flyers denouncing him during the campaign, and they take some credit for his downfall in the 2010 elections.

“When I got into this business, someone told me something that I really took to heart: Taxi drivers die from the waist down,” Price told city officials. “At Yellow Cab, we’ve got what we call the card room. It’s where the drivers can come to play cards or checkers, and relax a little after their breaks. The card room has a wall of pictures of drivers who are deceased or have become sick since 2008. They’re dying from heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.”

Then there’s the hassle of passengers, many of whom are suspicious that they’re being overcharged — even with the meters. Last month, according to police, driver Domingo Ezirike was shot dead after a dispute with a passenger over the heat, the radio and a difference of 75 cents in the fare.

“Personally, the longer hours have crippled my family life,” Negede Abebe told city officials. “Whereas I could spend two hours a day or more with my three children, I am now lucky to see my 6-year-old daughter for 40 minutes a day. In a typical workweek . . . I rarely see my other two middle-school-aged children. It is heartbreaking to be unable to play a larger part in my children’s lives.”