"Extend the deadline! Extend the deadline!" they chanted.
About 200 D.C. taxi drivers held a rally in Freedom Plaza Wednesday morning to demand more time to install credit card readers in their vehicles. Come next Tuesday, Oct. 1, every taxicab in Washington must accept credit card and smartphone payments to comply with D.C. Taxicab Commission regulations, which estimates 1,500 to 2,000 cabs could miss the deadline.
Frustrated cab drivers, many of whom waved homemade signs at the rally, gave a variety of reasons for failing to comply with the credit card mandate. Some said payment service providers (PSP) have had a hardware shortage or that the equipment, once installed, didn't work correctly.
Other drivers said a company that agreed to process their credit card receipts just backed out of its contract, leaving them less than a week to find another PSP. The Taxicab Commission approved eight PSPs to do business with cab drivers and taxi companies with large fleets.
"So my option is just sit home. I don't have any work after October 1," said cabbie Dagnachew Desta, who said once his PSP cancelled the contract with his fleet owner he could not secure another installation date until Oct. 19.
Aurora Vasquez, an attorney with the Excluded Worker Project, said the D.C. Taxicab Commission underestimated how much time the credit card reader installations would take.
"The initial installation window was too small to begin with," she said. "When you take into consideration there was an estimated 6,000 cabs that needed to be fitted, there simply wasn't enough time. I don't think the chairman [Ron Linton], the installers or cab drivers had any concept how long it would take to install one reader. Right now some installers are saying it can take as long as four hours."
The cabbies' plight did not convince regulators at DCTC headquarters. In a statement, the Taxicab Commission turned down the request for another deadline extension.
"There will be no extensions granted," said DCTC spokesman Neville Waters. "Drivers have had over 120 days since June 1 to have the devices installed. You may note... that over 5,000 vehicles will have the Modern Taximeter System installed by Sept 30."
He added that "the consumer has demanded this level of service and clearly the majority of vehicles will be equipped to provide the passengers with a cashless option for payment."
The group D.C. Drivers United for Equal Rights said it randomly surveyed 179 cabbies over a 48-hour period ending Sept. 21. According to their findings, 102 drivers, or 57 percent, did not have a credit card reader installed. Among the 72 drivers who reported having a credit card device installed, 48 (nearly 67 percent) also reported the installation process required more than one visit.
Gleike Taxi Inc., one of the eight approved PSPs, was scheduled to install devices in 600 cabs but managed only 430 before cancelling its contract with Grand Cab Company, according to Desta and other cabbies who attended the rally. That move left 170 drivers looking for another PSP just one week before the deadline.