Don't Fear The Meter

Mayor Fenty's plan to replace the crazy zone fare system in DC with a normal meter one seems to be meeting with some resistance from cab drivers. The oddest thing about it, though, is the specific nature of the objection:

Wegen Tadesse said the 900 members of the Ethiopian Ethio-American United Cab Owner Association plan to strike. "It's not just about the meters now," he said. "There are no guarantees for any of our jobs. The big companies are going to take over the business."

What he's referring to is DC's unusual system of independent-proprietor taxicabs. Most cities face sharp limits on the number of cabs allowed to roam the streets. Consequently, the licenses become very valuable, which is to say very expensive, and cab driving thus becomes a capital intensive business in which firms own multiple cabs (with the license rather than the cab itself being the valuable commodity here) and employ drivers to drive them. In DC, by contrast, it's much cheaper and easier to get a cab up and running so they're mostly owner-operated. Tadesse and many other cab drivers feel that letting the mayor impose the meter will somehow undue this system. But it's not clear exactly why they think that, so it's hard to know what kind of policies could assuage those fears while simultaneously letting us enjoy the bounty of the meter.