WAMU - Washington —
As a deadline approaches for D.C. taxi cabs to accept credit cards, the city's top regulator says most drivers will be in compliance. But despite threats of impounded vehicles, up to 2,000 cabs won't be ready.
“Any taxicab that is on the road seeking customers that has not complied with the requirement will be off the road. They will be impounded and they will stay off the road until they do comply,” said D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton. “The hack inspectors are going to be watching for the ones that are not completed.”
After months of delays and snags, it appears the commission finally has achieved a key piece of its modernization program, bringing full credit card acceptance—an amenity commonplace in other cities' taxicabs for years—to District cabs. However, a good number of D.C.’s approximately 6,500 to 7,000 taxis will not meet the deadline. Those drivers are left with a choice after Oct 1: eventually come into compliance or find another line of work.
Without directly addressing past drivers’ or cab companies’ complaints about the mandated credit card acceptance process, Linton conceded that as many as 1,500 to 2,000 taxicabs will not meet the deadline, although the statistics can be misleading.
Many drivers are part-timers, Linton said. “There is a significant number of taxicab owner/operators… who might be contemplating that this is the end of their career and they don’t intend to continue to be taxicab drivers. Some of them are contemplating moving into the sedan class.”
Even if some cabbies fall by the wayside, Linton said he does not expect the riding public to notice. “I believe that there will be no noticeable decline in the availability of taxis.”
Even the chairman’s estimate that at least 5,000 to 5,500 cabs will accept credit cards by the end of the month comes with a caveat. One of the approved payment service providers, Hitch!, which makes a taxi dispatch and credit card processing app, is struggling to finish its scheduled installations.
“There is a serious question as to whether they are able to meet their commitments and meet the requirements in actual practice, and they have projected installations in the month of September of 1,430 vehicles,” he said. “If they are unable to do that, then a good many of those are going to have to be absorbed by other [payment service providers] and that could cause us a bit of a problem in terms of meeting the targets we want to meet.”
As of last Friday, 3,064 taxicabs had received the full installation to accept non-cash payments. The Taxicab Commission will provide an updated total next week.
Some drivers already accepted credit card payments through Square, a mobile payments company that allows customers to pay their fares by swiping their credit cards through Square’s reader attached to a smartphone. Square’s payment system is not included on the list of those approved for all D.C. taxicabs.
While some cab drivers have protested the District’s mandates, Linton says they'll benefit from taking credit cards.
“The present owners of D.C. taxicabs who remain in business under the new regulations are going to find significant increases in their income,” he said. “I think there is a tendency to focus on the cabbies that complain.”
The next big changes for D.C.’s taxicab fleet will be the new red-and-gray color scheme (expected to take three to four years to fully implement starting in October) and new dome lights with ID numbers that all cabs will be required to install by Nov. 1.
As for cabbies who try to flout the new rules, Linton said his team of 15 inspectors will be out in force, and he plans to double the number of inspectors in the coming months.