New DC Taxi Zone Map Clarifies Transportation

As part of a District initiative the well-known taxi zone map is redesigned for improved clarity and communication

Traveling by taxi in Washington, DC is different from just about any major city one might know.

In virtually all major American cities, the basic charges for a taxicab involve distance: an initial fare (the “flag drop”) followed by a fare metered usually in fractions of a mile (such as tenths). For instance, in this writer’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, the meter starts at $2.50, then the trip is metered at $2.10/mile (or 21 cents per tenth of a mile). There are various minimal flat charges for extra persons and for waiting time when stopped at a stop light. Taxi fares are usually locally regulated; your mileage, as they say, will vary.

The DC system is unique for being meterless. Instead of using meters to measure distance/fare, the District of Columbia is divided into a target-like zone system; starting in the city center, with Zone 1, concentric zones radiate outwards to the limits of the district; Zones 2 and out are further divided into sector-like subzones, the end result being not unlike an avant-garde dart-board. The taxi rider is chaged, not unlike some mass-transit districts, flat fares based on the number of taxi zones traversed.

Old Washington DC Taxi MapThe old look Washington DC Taxi zone map, displayed in all DC cabs. Lack of obvious landmarks and off-cardinal arrangement made for a confusing map (PDF obtainable through this link.

A Blogger’s View

On Wednesday, 7 February 2007, well-known political blogger Atrios of Eschaton wrote a post (trackback, permalink) which caught our eye, particularly this remark:

…the DC taxi maps always mystified me, and I eventually stopped bothering to try to figure out why. Now I know why – up on the maps is not North.

The link in that post led us to a post at fellow political blogger Matthew Yglesias’s blog, which led us home; the announcement by the District of Columbia Department of Transportation that the long-used map was being revised:

The redesign of the map—an initiative of the Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s Action Plan: 100 Days and Beyond—is geared toward improving customer service and providing a more comprehensible map to the riding public. The latest version shows the city in its correct directional orientation, highlighting the four quadrants of the city: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and Southeast.

New DC Taxi Zones MapThe new-look Washington DC Taxi Zone map (PDF available here).

A Modern Difference

The result of the redesign is a vastly improved and much more communicative map which is visually appealing:

  • The old map took advantage of DC’s unique and quirky geography to display a layout that was economical. This, however, arranged the district so that the map no longer oriented to the north, unlike most every map we’ve seen published of DC. Reorienting the map to North restores a key visual cue that makes the map instantly recognizable
  • The new map takes its stylistic cues from modern transit maps in its use of geographically-inaccurate but schematically-correct attributes (lines only run vertically, horizontally, and at 45-degree angles, irregular lines greatly simplified) and the type is an attractive yet plain and functional sans-serif. The old map, with its small type and dated-looking font, looked as though it hadn’t been changed since before the 1970’s.
  • More local landmarks: The Capitol building is now easily locatable, features such as Union Station, the White House and the Washington Monument make for more quick orientation; the Anacostia River is more prominent and recognizable, and major trans-DC thoroughfares are easily noted and seen
  • The colors are well-chosen so to inform but not dazzle the eye; no simultaneous contrast anywhere.

The buzz about the District is that they may well eventually move to a traditional taximeter-based system. But until they do, riders should have a much easier time knowing where they are, knowing where they’re going, and knowing what they’ll have to pay to get there.