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Posted at 03:01 PM ET, 08/22/2012

Could ‘smart meters’ kill the blank taxi receipt?


Credit cards, yes! Blaring TV ads, meh! (Mike DeBonis - The Washington Post)
UPDATED 3:55 P.M.

“Smart meters” are now reality: At least two cabs in one major D.C. fleet now have the city-mandated, credit-card-ready systems installed and ready for the streets.

City officials showed off the new $35 million VeriFone system at a news conference this morning, and the rider interface will look familiar to anyone who’s taken a New York City taxi ride in the past decade: There’s a credit card reader and keypad, and an LCD display to show maps, weather, NBC-branded news clips and plenty of advertisements.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) tried out the system and emerged from the cab’s back seat brandishing what could be the most sea-changey of all the changes promised by the new system: A machine-printed receipt.


Gray flashes his machine-printed receipt. (Mike DeBonis - The Washington Post)
Yes, cabs have been equipped with receipt printers since the 2008 changeover from zones to meters, but in my experience, the bulk of drivers still peel off blank receipts from a pad and hand them to riders.

That, of course, facilitates what is likely one of the most wide-ranging business-expense-padding schemes in human history. (And, no, I have no personal experience with that.) But now every cab will be printing receipts at the demand of the rider, meaning the days of the blank slip could be dwindling quickly.

Now there are a few reasons you might not see a smart meter for weeks, if not months. First off, the meters are scarce for now. Only 150 will be provided for installation over the next two weeks, said city taxi czar Ron Linton. At the garage Gray & Co. visited today, home of the fleet run by taxi giant Jerry Schaeffer and son Jeff Schaeffer, they only have five systems currently ready for installation.

And then there’s all the legal and political machinations. Gray continued his war of words with D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), whose disapproval resolution on the meter contract has complicated the rollout. But remember: It isn’t Barry’s resolution that matters, it’s the protests of the VeriFone award filed with the Contract Appeals Board. Those protests carry the small but real possibility that the VeriFone contract could be voided altogether, delaying the smart meter system for months.

Today, a representative of one of the protesters said it to file for a court injunction to stop the installations while the Contact Appeals Board makes its decision. George Lowe, a lobbyist for Creative Mobile Technologies, says his clients are moving “aggressively” to prevent any more meters from being installed.

The appeals board has said it will decide whether or not it will stop the installations by the end of next week; it is unclear whether a Superior Court judge will be willing to halt the process before that.

UPDATE, 3:30 P.M.: CMT lawyer A. Scott Bolden sends along the company’s court filings seeking to stop any further installations of VeriFone meters. He expects an emergency hearing to be held by Thursday.

UPDATE, 3:55 P.M.: Updated the post to reflect that all metered cabs should be able to print receipts, though few drivers seem to use them.


The driver’s console includes GPS navigation and dispatch features. (Mike DeBonis - The Washington Post)

By  |  03:01 PM ET, 08/22/2012

 
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