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Taxi Commission Chief Wants To 'Speed Up' Modernization Plans

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One of the proposed cab color schemes for D.C. taxis. 
Martin DiCaro
One of the proposed cab color schemes for D.C. taxis. 

There was a lot of talk about D.C.'s taxi modernization plans Monday as D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray unveiled four proposed color schemes for District cabs, but the city's top taxi regulator would like to see the modernization  effort moving more quickly.

The color scheme (options include red/white, red/black, yellow/white and yellow/green) is one part of taxi changes passed earlier this year that include adding credit card machines and GPS devices to cabs. The plans are expected to take years to implement and Ron Linton, head of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, says the process is taking too long.

"I’m a very impatient person and I would like to speed it up," said Ron Linton said Monday as the mayor discussed the proposed cab colors.

Modernization could take years

Although district lawmakers passed a taxicab modernization bill this year, the most important changes have yet to come to fruition: GPS smart meters, credit card payment machines and touch screen monitors for customers in the back seat. 

“The people who ride in the cabs were pushing and pushing for a modernization program,” said Linton, referring to a survey [PDF] undertaken by the office of D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh that found widespread dissatisfaction with the current conditions of taxicabs. 

But a hiccup to to the credit card reader installation came last month when a panel of administrative law judges ruled against the District's plan to hire VeriFone to install the machines in cabs. The board found problems with the contract awarded to VeriFone, which beat out seven other tech firms. The matter is still under review by the District's Office of Contracting and Procurement.

"We selected Verifone on the basis of what was, in my judgment, an honest evaluation and a cost analysis," he said.

Some resistance from cab drivers

Many cab drivers have resisted the changes, saying credit card processing fees will bite into a day's pay or that GPS smart meters are an invasion of privacy. But the mayor argues the modernization is meant to ultimately benefit drivers and cab companies in addition to passengers. 

"The changes have to come," Gray said. "This industry has got to change to be competitive. I actually think the cab drivers will make more money as a result of this." 

Touch screen monitors that offer riders the option of tipping 15, 20, or 25 percent will induce larger tips, Gray said.

When the changes ultimately arrive is unclear. Roughly one-third of taxicabs have installed credit card machines on their own, Linton said. As for the paint jobs, they'll be introduced when drivers replace aging vehicles. The recent survey found the public’s preferred color to be yellow. Red came in second.

Linton’s office will choose the winning color scheme next year, taking into consideration public opinion. The public may vote for their favorite inside Verizon Center through January 7 where two sample cabs are on display, or on the D.C. Taxicab Commission's website. There's been no survey of which color cabbies prefer, but at least one outside the Verizon Center Monday wasn't impressed.

"It looks ugly. It’s no good for the city," said B.K. Anthony, whose cab is a light blue SUV. "It looks junky."

For the record, the mayor on Monday called the colors "funky."

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