Taxicab Tricks International

July 26, 2008

I just became aware of the whole D.C. taxicab discussion thread initated by Shannon with a comment by Majorman and posts by Everyonelovesavegangirl and Mknac. I agree with Everyonelovesavegangirl – D.C. has been lucky to have the zone system. In Bulgaria, where I come from, all taxicabs run on meters all the time. Their tricks of trying to take circumvented routes to extend a ride are an annoying memory from my over ten-year long taxicab riding experience in Sofia.

I totally agree with Shannon that with the new meter system in D.C. you have to stay alert looking at the meter all the time. That is one stressful trip, isn’t it?!  Having a predictable fee range with the zone system has been a convenience, especially when you don’t know your way around the city. On my first encounter with the zone system while visiting DC in 2001 I though this system was brilliant. Especially given the fact that two of my co-workers and I had a cab ride to a wrong address for a meeting and had to figure out what the right place was. We wandered for an extra half an hour downtown D.C. and it did not cost us more than crossing one zone. Having a meter on top of that situation would have made it even more pressing.

I like the metro, buses and just walking in D.C. I don’t have to drive anywhere and I have used cabs less than ten times for two years in D.C., but still I would not change the zone system to meters, because it reminds me of the situation back home. It is, however, aggravated by the fact that taxicab drivers in Bulgaria are definitely two things together – philosophers and heavy smokers. Many of them will not consider asking your permission or even warning you that they are about to choke you with smoke. On top of that they will tell you their life story (in a nutshell, if you are lucky to have a short ride), complain how awful the economic situation is, blame it on the politicians and lay out their views of how we can all live better, if we can get rid of the current government (whatever that happens to be at the moment). All this time you are keeping an ear on their rants over a constant high-volume stream of pop-folk music and, of course, keeping an eye on the meter…

Downtown Sofia - taxicabs' protest infront of the Parliament

Sofia - taxicabs' protest infront of the Parliament

Very often taxicabs in Bulgaria would refuse to give you a ride for a short distance. I guess it’s either not feasible for them or they are just lazy, waiting for that super-long-ride customer to show up… Only once in my life did I hear a cab driver who expressed the opposite view – he claimed that he would take a customer even for a one-block long ride, because, he argued, you never know who’s waiting around the corner. And he went on to give me the example of a cab that picked a customer for a really short ride to a hotel in Sofia, where he was hailed immediately by another customer, who was actually ready to pay a four-hour ride to another city all the way on the other side of the country. This is like hitting the jackpot in taxicab world!

Mknac’s blog post on D.C. taxicabs gives a list of tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of the meter system and I find them reasonable and very useful. With one further suggestion – very often, if you as a customer are trying to be too much in control of the cab ride, the driver might act secretly spiteful and “take you for a ride” in ways you have not figured out yet. So, being moderately assertive is better.


One comment

  1. I’m a semi-frequent cab rider. I’d take the Metro more often, however, the Foggy Btm station is almost a mile from my house. It’s really about the same cost for me to travel the place I go pre/post-Zone system. I went on a really short ride to the vet and my fare was less than $5. In the past a ride the same distance could cost $8.80 for crossing a zone line.

    Most cabbies seem to prefer short rides with large groups.

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