DC Cabs, A World Unto Themselves

What should have been a 15 minute cab ride to dinner last night, took 40 minutes, included stops at two gas stations, and ended with me opening the door onto an oncoming bike rider, two blocks from my destination.  All told, traumatic for me, but apparently just another day at work for the elderly cab driver who probably should not be behind the wheel.

The entire adventure brought home to me the issues of taxicab oversight that are so hotly debated. As someone who takes cabs pretty regularly, I was a strong supporter of putting meters in cabs. Under the old zone system, it wasn’t just tourists who were scammed. Even if you knew exactly how much the fare should be – maybe it’s a work to home route that you know well – you still had to spend time and energy arguing with the driver.

While this is controversial amongst the taxicab drivers, I’m not quite sure why we don’t have a medallion system. The argument, of course, is that it hurts the independent drivers. But what about the customers? What about our safety and comfort? We don’t have a group representing our interests or our voice, so somehow those considerations seem to get lost. In my trips to New York, my experience indicates medallions work.  Compared to DC, it’s always a much more consistently enjoyable experience.

Which brings me to last night. I snagged my cab on Florida Avenue and Connecticut in Dupont Circle. My cab driver then told me he needed to stop off to get gas. Okay, annoying, but understandable, and there’s a gas station on the way.

After waiting in line, he mumbled something about the line being too long and taking me to my destination. Great. Then I noticed he was going the wrong way. Except he was going to a gas station – on 15th and U, which was several blocks out of my way.

So we cruise down U Street traffic and wove dangerously around the clogged Convention Center, finally getting close to my destination. By this time, I’ve noticed the “handicap” tag that my driver has. Here’s what else I’ve noticed: he’s really old. He’s not really in good control of the cab. He’s sitting on a pillow and has a giant stain on the front of his white shirt. Not particularly confidence inspiring.

Also, the back seat is hot. Not as in the sun beating down, as in mechanical heat radiating from the back of the seat. I was thinking, please don’t tell me the cab is going to break down, too …

I’d had enough when I told him I’d get out a few blocks from my destination, I couldn’t wait to get out. That’s when I opened my door right into the bike of a 20 something woman who was biking between the row of parked cars and the cars stopped at the light. She was fine, I think the cab door struck her bike tire, but it was a scary moment.

I hope that’s the most adventurous cab ride I have for some time. I’m still kinda recovering from it.

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