Zoning Out

Today is May 1.  To most folks around the world, that means Labor Day or May Day.  To most Americans, it’s just another day.  Except if you live in Washington, DC, where May 1, 2008, means Meter Day.

On October 17, 2007, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty announced that the city’s cabs would be switching from the old zone system, established during the Great Depression, to a meter-based fare system.  To those unfamiliar with DC’s zone-based fare system, it’s a simple concept: the city is divided into zones, and taxi fares are calculated based on the zones covered rather than a true distance covered.  Click on the picture above to see the full zone map from the website of the DC Taxicab Commission.

The major benefit of the system was that riders weren’t penalized for their cabs getting stuck in DC’s notorious traffic, and drivers had an incentive to take riders on the fastest route to their destination because the on-the-ground distance or drive time didn’t matter.  The downside, though, was that visitors to the District had no knowledge of the zones and were sometimes (perhaps frequently) cheated by unscrupulous cabbies.  Some riders (myself included) are also guilty of taking a cab to a zone line and walking a couple of extra blocks to save a buck or two instead of crossing the line and incurring an additional charge.

Cab drivers in DC have generally been opposed to the idea of meters–partly becuase they can be pricey and the drivers will have to provide them at their own expense, and partly because it alters a system that, quite frankly, most DC residents had grown accustomed to.  The District has required that all cabs be running on meters by today, and fines for noncompliance are as high as $1000. 

Regardless of the outcome, it looks like the familiar zone maps in the back of each DC cab are going the way of the dodo.  Farwell, zones!


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Welcome to Cartographia

Cartographia is a blog about how we use maps to represent the world around us, and how people interpret maps today and throughout history. Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or recommendations directly to me at cartographia.blog@gmail.com.

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