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D.C. Taxicab Commission Making Strides On New Payment Systems

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Cab drivers will utilize tablets to allow riders to choose their method of payment.
Martin Di Caro
Cab drivers will utilize tablets to allow riders to choose their method of payment.

D.C. regulators are assuring the paying public that all cabs licensed in the District will be able to accept both credit card and smart phone payments by the end of summer, after a demonstration to show the new technology coming to all taxis actually works.

Two tech companies, Uber and mytaxi, have criticized the D.C. Taxicab Commission, claiming their app-based hailing and payment services wouldn't function with the payment systems taxi drivers are required to install by Sept. 1. Uber claimed integration, as the process is technically called, has not been accomplished in any city where it operates.

At a body shop that services cab fleets in Southwest on Tuesday, integration was shown to work. As Taxicab Commission officials looked on, representatives of the tech firms Hailo and Taxi Radar demonstrated how customers will be able to pay fares from their smartphones in sync with the payment consoles and tablets taxi drivers will offer their passengers.

"We worked with the DCTC to fully understand what the regulations entail and how we can create a marriage, and we've done our part," said Hailo's Washington general manager Yonis Benitez.

Drivers will hand payment tablets back to passengers paying with credit cards to manually enter tip amounts for the first three months. The tablets will be fixed in the back seat starting in December. Passengers paying with their smartphones should see no difference when universal credit card payments begin.

Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton, a frequent target of Uber's attacks, said his next challenge is getting drivers to accept the changes.

"We are constantly in touch with them and reviewing their planning," said Linton, who said the company whose body shop hosted the tech demonstration has assured regulators its fleet of 500 taxis will be ready to go by July 20.

Currently 7,000 taxicabs are licensed to operate in D.C.

"If we can hit 3,500 by the end of July then we only have another 50 percent to go in August. On Sept. 1 we will begin enforcing, and if a taxi does not have a modern taximeter system, their car will be impounded and will not be returned until they make an appointment with an installation shop," Linton said.

The changes that will result in convenience for customers will also mean better data for regulators, according to the head of another tech firm with a popular smartphone app in Washington.

"The interesting thing about regulators is that for almost 100 years they have regulated industries by survey and by anecdote. With this system they will understand anonymous data — actual ride data — from across the city and see where service is being provided and where it's not," said Sanders Partee, president of Arlington-based TaxiMagic, an app for booking, tracking, and paying taxi rides. "I think the big beneficiaries are the consumers. They want a safe ride and accessible rides."

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