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Credit card system for taxis put off until May

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Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

D.C. won't require taxis to take credit cards until May at the earliest, after the city's Taxicab Commission decided Wednesday to go through a longer process to issue the new rules.

"What we want to do is do it right, not just do it quickly," said commission Chairman Ron Linton. "There are some elements in there that need more massaging."

The commission's decision pushes the credit card requirement back from April to May, after a lack of a quorum at a meeting earlier this month already had pushed it back from March to April.

The push for credit cards in cabs is part of the District's plan to modernize its taxi fleet. The D.C. Council passed a bill authorizing the changes in July, but taxis still await the credit card payment, GPS devices, panic buttons and uniform color the law promised.

After a $35 million contract to supply smart meters that would have doubled as credit card readers was bungled by city contracting officials and rejected by a judge, the commission earlier this month announced plans to order cabs to take credit cards but let them choose which technology to use.

Many cabs already have credit card readers, or use digital apps like Uber, myTaxi or HitchRides to allow users to pay with plastic.

Taxi drivers at a commission meeting Wednesday said they were worried the panel's proposed rules for payment would make things too complicated by attaching extra rules and stiff penalties to the credit card requirement. For example, under the proposed regulation, companies processing credit payments will have to report all data from all of those trips, including starting points and destinations, to the Taxicab Commission, or face fines for not doing so.

"The marketplace doesn't entertain too complicated and expensive of a system," said cab driver Negede Abebe. "The regulation doesn't consider the reality on the ground."

HitchRides founder David Miller said the proposed rules would force him to write new software to connect his app directly to taxi meters and to track all trips a cab working with his company makes, even those paid for by cash.

"It's one step forward, one step back," he said.

The commission will take public comment on the proposed rules before deciding whether to change them or approve them to go in effect in May.

The District is also planning to mandate that all cabs be the same color, and a commission panel is deciding that color scheme. But only 20 people turned out for a public hearing on the color options Tuesday night, and most of them were taxi drivers, commission spokesman Neville Waters said. Residents can see the options and take a poll on which is their favorite at dctaxi.dc.gov.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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