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I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT SAM Smith is actually arguing that the D.C. cab system is working just fine and that taxi metering would be a setback to equal opportunity (“Metering Opportunity,” The District Line, 12/16/94).

I’m quite willing to accept his points that cab driving is a good occupation for recent arrivals trying to survive economically, and that restricting the number of taxis would be bad for the drivers and the riders. But metering taxis is an entirely independent question. The current zone system is an invitation for drivers to overcharge the unsuspecting. Every time I get into a D.C. cab (though not a metered Maryland cab), my stomach starts to tighten in anticipation of the discussion of the fare.

In December, I took a cab from 20th and Pennsylvania to 21st and P NW. It was clearly in one “subzone.” The conversation at the end of the ride went something like this:

Me: So that’s $2.80, right?

Him: No, one zone, $3.20.

Me: No, look at the map, it’s one subzone, that’s just $2.80.

Him: I picked you up on H Street, one zone.

Me: No, you picked me up on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Him: Well, they just changed the rates, the rates have gone up.

Me: Let me see the new rates. [I see that there are no new rates, he shows me the same old rates.] No, look, one subzone, $2.80.

Him: OK, $2.80.

Now, this was a rare victory. Usually, I swallow my suspicions and pay the fare demanded because it’s dark, and most streets don’t appear on the zone map, and I’m embarrassed, etc. But I, and I’m sure hundreds of other riders, would rather pay a little more just to avoid these nasty scenes and the unpleasant feeling of being taken.

Takoma Park, Md., via the Internet