Starting Today, DC Taxis Install New Credit-Card-Friendly Smart Meters

But because this is the District, the “new era” is not without some controversies.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

While there are still some issues to be resolved, starting today, DC taxis are required to install state-of-the-art, credit-card-friendly taxi meters over the next three months. Some of the first “smart meters” to be installed were unveiled this morning by Mayor Vincent Gray and DC Taxi Commissioner Ron Linton. When the project is done, 6,500 DC cabs will have the meters, which also feature some television news programming and advertisements.

The smart meters are from VeriFone Systems, which entered into a five-year, $35 million contract with the District. The city agreed to pay for the meters and the installation. This is where the behind-the-scenes issues come in. Council member Marion Barry filed a “disapproval” action to try to stop the contract. It was also protested by two companies that competed for the bid and lost. That protest is before the Contract Appeals Board, which is expected to have a ruling by August 31, according to sources in the City Council and with the Taxi Commission. What it means is that from now until August 31, the drivers will have to pay for installation and then be reimbursed by the city. The overall installation costs, according to the Taxi Commission, are between $1 million and $1.5 million, or approximately $150 per cab.

When the City Council reconvenes it will deal with Barry’s action, though that, too, is expected to be resolved without delaying the installation process. The protests, while they cause some dust in the unveiling of the fancy new system, are unlikely to have any effect on passengers.

What passengers will get to do, however, is help pay for the meters through a 50-cent surcharge. As for fares in general, they’ve gone through so many changes lately it’s beyond us to tell you exactly what to expect. The per-mile rate went up in the spring, but some add-on fees were removed. That said, as everyone who uses a DC taxi can attest, the individual experience varies greatly. If it’s any comfort, the new “smart” systems will have GPS. So someone, or something, will know how to get you to your destination.