News & Politics

Undercover Inspections Cite DC Taxi Drivers for “Broken” Credit Card Readers, Refusals to Provide Service

The DC Taxi Commission found that while most cab drivers are following the new credit card rules, violators remain. It also found evidence of drivers refusing to take customers because of skin color.

Photograph by Flickr user Wayan Vota.

The DC Taxicab Commission recently hired a private investigation firm to see if the city’s taxi drivers are obeying the regulations requiring that cabs be outfitted with functioning credit card readers. And while the two-week undercover inspection found that 94 percent of taxis were in compliance when it comes to taking plastic, many cabbies were found in violation of other rules, including refusing to serve would-be passengers, sometimes on the basis of race.

The commission hired Capitol Inquiry, a PI company founded by former Washington City Paper reporter Ken Cummins, after hearing several anecdotes from passengers who said they were told by drivers that credit card readers were malfunctioning. Capitol Inquiry dispatched 10 of its employees to ride cabs for the last two weeks of 2013 to see truthful these claims were.

From the investigation’s results, it would appear the frequency of hopping in a cab and attempting to pay with a card only to be rebuffed by the driver is on the decline, but it still happens often enough.

“Drivers tried to talk [investigators] out of using cards,” says Taxicab Commission spokesman Neville Waters. “We don’t know if [credit card readers] weren’t working. If not, they shouldn’t have been picking up passengers.”

But even though the number of flat refusals to take credit cards was low, the number of overall infractions suggests there are still many things wrong with DC’s taxi industry. Fourteen drivers had malfunctioning or improper credit card devices, 12 were cited for bad receipts, 22 were marked for not displaying an identification badge in the back seat, and eight drivers simply refused to pick people up.

Since the credit card regulations came into effect last year—after multiple delays—cabbies have been resistant to move away from a cash-only business model, even partnering up with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to form a trade organization to fend off enforcement of the new rules. Unsurprisingly, the drivers were not pleased to find out some of their ranks will be getting fines in the mail ranging from $100 to $1,000 as the result of an undercover inspection blitz.

“The drivers of the Washington, DC Taxi Operators Association are committed to doing their best to adhere to the ever-changing regulations of the DCTC,” Teamsters spokesman Galen Monroe says in a statement. “However, we do question whether an undercover inspection program is the best way to make drivers aware of a violation. Perhaps the DCTC and the taxi drivers would be better served if the commission used its resources to educate and communicate what constitutes a violation rather than drivers only finding out when they receive a fine in the mail.”

The commission will be dispatching Capitol Inquiry’s investigators again to focus on drivers who refuse to drive certain passengers, especially African-Americans and disabled individuals. “Refusal to haul is not acceptable at all,” Waters says. “It has affected African-American males disproportionally.”

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.