Will D.C.'s taxis become safer?

D.C. cabs come in an array of colors. Drivers’ knowledge of city streets varies widely, too. But almost all cabs are cash only. This, and several other things, could be changing.

Among the proposed changes: Panic buttons for drivers and passengers, requiring classes on D.C. sites and neighborhoods for drivers - also satellite technology for directions. That's something passengers approve of.

"We've come together to move the District's taxicab industry into the 21st century by crafting what I believe is a common-sense approach to improving the quality of the taxi experience in our city," D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said.

The legislation will do the following, according to the city:

*Add new fuel-efficient/"green" vehicles to the District's taxi fleet.

*Incorporate a cash-free system in taxis by enabling credit-card transactions and other electronic forms of payment for fares.

*Fund a high-tech meter system with a safety feature that has the ability to communicate directly with the Metropolitan Police Department in emergencies.

*Create a voucher program for senior-citizen and low-income riders.

*Establish a professional driver-education program.

*Facilitate better investigation and enforcement actions for complaints about service or driver behavior as well as illegal taxis.

*Make the Taxicab Commission a self-supporting agency.

The proposals come a week after the Taxicab Commission approved a fare hike; the first in three years. The per mile charge is going up from $1.50 to $2.16.

A surcharge, possibly of about 50 cents, would cover the cost of the upgrades and improvements to city cabs.