News & Politics

DC Taxi Drivers Protest Deadline for Credit Cards in Cabs

Starting next week, any cab operating without a credit card reader is subject to being towed and impounded.

With less than a week to go until the deadline for all 7,000 taxicabs in DC to have credit-card readers installed, about 200 drivers are protesting on Pennsylvania Ave., NW across the street from the District government building saying they need more time.
Since June, when new regulations went into effect mandating that all taxis take non-cash forms of payment, taxi drivers have been replacing their outdated meters with new models that can accept credit cards and charges from digital services like Hailo and Uber. But though the DC Taxicab Commission approved 10 companies to install the new payment systems, the rollout has been achingly slow. The original Aug. 31 deadline was kicked back a month, but come Tuesday the commission still expects about 2,000 cabs to not have the credit card devices.
After Sept. 30, the commission says, it will impound any taxi its inspectors find operating without one of the new meters and credit card systems.
Gathering on Freedom Plaza, where they chanted and hoisted signs toward John A. Wilson Building, the cabbies complained of expensive installation charges—sometimes as high as $1,400—and confusing operating contracts with the companies, which the Taxicab Commission refers to as payment service providers, that offer the credit card readers.
“Don’t act like we are slaves,” one of the chants goes.
One driver, Dagne Desta, says he was set to have his credit card reader installed last week. But he says the company he arranged to set it up, Gleikie, canceled his appointment and sent him new terms asking for more money. A document Desta brought to the protest reads that the credit card transaction fee is being increased from 3.5 percent to 7.8 percent, and also suggests a 5 percent cut of cash transactions. But Desta’s most immediate concern is that his installation appointment has been rescheduled for Oct. 20, nearly three weeks past the deadline.
“The [payment service providers] are not capable,” says Desta. He adds that if he cannot drive his cab without a credit card reader for fear of being towed and impounded, he stands to lose between $150 and $200 a day.
But the Taxicab Commission is not moved by the cabbies’ pleas. “If you see a suit on sale and two days later it’s been sold, do you sue Bloomingdale’s because they sold it?” Neville Waters, the commission’s spokesman, says.
The commission reports that through last week, slightly more than half of DC’s cab fleet has been outfitted with new meters and credit card readers, and Waters says another 1,500 will be done by the end of the month. That’s progress, but it still leaves more than one-quarter of the fleet without the upgrade.
The commission won’t be offering any more extensions either. “They’ve had 120 days,” Waters says. “This is something the public demanded.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.