Cab drivers want extension to sign up for credit cards

Cab driver Joseph Tillman acknowledges that credit card machines need to be installed in all D.C. cabs, but believes the process was rushed, leaving small, independent cab owners like himself behind. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

WASHINGTON – D.C. taxicabs are required to have credit card machines installed by Aug. 31, unless they receive a one-month extension.

However, the extension can only occur if the cab owner signs up with a payment service provider by Aug. 15.

Some drivers say they believe the deadline is too soon.

“There is this misconception out there that we don’t want credit card machines. That’s not true. We are losing business by not offering the option,” says driver Joseph Tillman.

“As our nation’s capital, we should have credit card machines in our cars. We just want to make sure that it’s done correctly and that we’re getting a fair shake on both ends.”

At issue, finding the right payment service provider before the Aug. 15 deadline. The District of Columbia Taxicab Commission has authorized cab owners to choose from 10 payment providers, but the varying terms and conditions confuse drivers like Aleme Tadesse. He’s accepted credit cards using a company called Square since 2012, but that company is not among the new authorized providers.

“Some of these [payment service providers] did not disclose their prices until two weeks ago. The terms and prices also seem to be changing everyday. We’re getting a lot of different proposals on swiping fees and fees. Also, some providers offer a two-year contract, others three or five,” he says.

“What we’re looking for is the best deal, but we don’t have enough time to do it.”

Tadesse will soon deliver a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to ask the D.C. Taxicab Commission to extend the Aug. 15 deadline, while maintaining the harder Sept. 30 deadline. Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton tells WTOP that won’t happen.

“They put themselves forth as businessmen. This is what they have to do. Be businessmen. They simply have to knuckle down and do their jobs,” he says.

A spokesman for Linton adds that several cab owners began negotiating in June with payment service providers. He says Tadesse is wrong to state the prices were only recently released.

“There were plenty of opportunities over these last 65 days for him to learn and understand what he had to do. The regulations were passed on May 31 and everyone in the industry knew what they had to do,” says Linton.

“The process is no different than going out to buy a new car. He’d go to several dealers to negotiate the best deal he can get.”

Tadesse tells WTOP his biggest worry is swipe fees. Those are charges the owner must pay each time someone swipes a credit card. Tadesse says most fares in D.C. are less than $10, so a swipe fee of 5 percent would equal $0.50. But he argues that since taxicab owners only receive $0.25 of a new service fee that’ll go into place, they’ll be losing money.

It’s a common problem for business owners across various industries. Some companies will require a minimum amount before allowing a credit card, which is an idea that some cab drivers are interested in exploring.

Another problem is the D.C. cab structure. While some big companies like Yellow Cab or individuals like Jerry Schaeffer can negotiate on behalf of all their taxicabs, Tadesse owns his own vehicle and has a loose affiliation with Skycab. Tillman owns his own vehicle as well and has no affiliation. Thousands fall into those two categories and must negotiate on their own with the payment service providers.

“It’s very difficult on us and as we get closer to Aug. 15, these providers are going to just jack up the prices,” says Tadesse.

D.C. currently has about 6,500 cabs between companies and independent owners. Linton says he believes about half of them have signed with payment service providers to install credit card machines.

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