Friday, January 20, 2006

TAXIS: All Zoned Out

QUIZ TIME. How many taxi zones is it from U Street NW to the Foggy Bottom Metro station? Well, it depends. We live in a city where lobbyists from generations past are blamed for the District’s gerrymandered and Byzantine meter-less taxicab zones (Hell, for all we know Jack Abramoff’s granddad is probably at fault that K Street’s rainmakers need only pay one zone to get from their downtown offices to Capitol Hill … reform-minded Democrats might say that at least.) I found myself earlier this week at the awkward intersection where Florida Avenue meets 18th and U streets NW. I needed to get to 23rd and Eye streets NW in a hurry, but I found myself straddling the dangerous DMZ between Zone 1 and Zone 2.

In these parts, Florida Avenue, which forms the northern boundary of L’Enfant’s original capital city, is prime territory for abuse by the city’s cabbies. If you aren’t careful, a seemingly honest cabbie might say “two zones, $9” — all with a smile. And most people, ignorant, will pay it, perhaps with two bucks for tip.

My cabbie wanted to charge me two zones. “Two zones?” Ha! I was ready to fight back. And my cabbie wasn’t ready for me. My destination was indeed one block into Zone 2 … 22nd Street NW forms Zone 1’s western boundary, dividing Foggy Bottom like an invisible Berlin Wall … but my starting point was in disputed territory. Does driving along a fare zone boundary for a mile or so constitute a two-zone trip? Many cabbies will say: “Why yes, it does.” Under their collective breath: “Suckers!”

I pointed out to my cabbie that he never technically entered Zone 1 and that we were west of 22nd Street. I looked at him straight in the eye. “Am I right? Are we west of 22nd Street? Are we in Zone 2?”

“Yes, sir.” He relented, giving me back a couple bucks. I told him to keep the $10 bill I gave him. It was the dirtiest, most guilt-ridden Alexander Hamilton he’s ever accepted. And he knew it.


At 4:14 PM, Blogger A Unique Alias said...

How can one learn such tricks, though? Just a lot of cabbing?

There should be a guide.

At 5:30 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Well, first you have to memorize the taxi cab zone map. Once you have that down, you use it when you get close to zone boundaries. Dropping comments here and there during the ride that demonstrate that you know where you're going will also deter predatory cabbies from trying to take advantage of you.

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