Some D.C. taxis get another month to install credit card readers


Drivers have reportedly been hesitant to sign deals with credit-card payment providers. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Hey, after years and years and years, what’s another month?

D.C. taxi owners who make a bona fide effort to comply with an Aug. 31 deadline for installing credit-card readers in their cabs were granted more time to comply Wednesday by the D.C. Taxicab Commission. The decision effectively pushes back, yet again, a longstanding project to make plastic a universally accepted form of taxi payment — a project with immense public support, as a recent Washington Post poll found.

Commission Chairman Ron Linton was hesitant to call the decision a delay, preferring to call it an “accommodation,” but the upshot is that the rollout will break Mayor Vincent Gray’s February promise that “by this summer, you will be able to use credit cards in every cab.”

Linton admits installations “haven’t been moving as rapidly as anticipated”; he said he expects about 1,000 of the city’s roughly 6,000 to have credit-card functionality by week’s end, and city meter shops should have the capacity to equip about 3,000 more cabs by the Aug. 31 deadline. But he said supply chain issues and hesitancy among some drivers — particularly independent drivers not affiliated with a larger fleet — have created the need for the extension to Sept. 30.

“There are too many taxi owners not paying attention to what they have to do,” Linton said. “They can make it happen they just have to put their minds to it.”

To avoid having their non-credit-card-accepting cabs impounded come Sept. 1, drivers have to affiliate by Aug. 15 with a “payment service provider” who has applied for an extension by that date. Drivers will then be issued letters excusing them from the deadline.

“This is an accommodation for those who have honestly tried to meet the deadline but because of things outside of their control have not been able to,” Linton said.

But one of the vendors involved in the credit-card rollout says even the new deadline remains pie-in-the-sky. Sanders Partee, president of Alexandria-based Taxi Magic, said Wednesday that while there’s more certainty now than ever, it’s questionable whether even the best-equipped companies can meet the commission’s deadline.

“We’ve never dealt with a more moving target than this process in the District,” he said. “Every meeting, the rules were being changed. As a vendor, it’s very hard to make a multi-million-dollar bet on a moving target.”

Taxi Magic provides a custom-built Samsung terminal system now in use in 45 cities that integrates with the “payment service providers” that each taxi owner affiliates with. The firm, Partee said, has found many drivers have been hesitant to sign long-term agreements with vendors with the rules constantly changing and with the commission issuing little information on the mandate to drivers.

Another big issue, Partee said, are the split deadlines for installing credit-card readers (Aug. 31) and installing backseat point-of-service terminals (Dec. 1). Most systems, he said, integrate the credit card function into the terminal, and while the December deadline is workable, it makes no sense to mandate drivers accept credit cards before that.

Linton said Taxi Magic is free to install its backseat device any time, but Partee said his company can only manufacture and install a limited number of devices before the Sept. 30 deadline.

Partee said the commission’s hard line on deadlines makes little sense, especially because under the current rules, drivers can start charging higher fares only after the credit-card systems are installed.

“There’s an incentive for finishing early,” he said. “Just give us the room to do it.”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | July 31, 2013