D.C. pushes credit cards, TV screens into cabs

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Coming soon to District taxicabs: credit card machines, GPS technology and "Saturday Night Live."

Mayor Vincent Gray said Thursday that the city has reached a $35 million deal with VeriFone to install in each of the District's 6,500 taxis by the end of the year so-called "smart meter" technology, ranging from monitors with NBC programming to panic buttons.

The D.C. Council could approve the agreement next week.

Cab drivers will pay as much as $500 each to install the meters, but riders will pay to maintain the technology. As part of a sweeping taxi reform package lawmakers are poised to approve, passengers would pay a surcharge of 50 cents per ride. The raised money will go toward the tab for the smart meter deal.

But District officials say riders will get an enhanced taxi experience in exchange for a pair of quarters.

"It is another step toward bring the District's taxicab fleet into the 21st century," Gray said.

In addition to national and local NBC broadcasts, cabs will also be able to display advertising and content from the District government. Riders, however, will have the option of switching off the televisions, which are similar to those installed in New York City's taxis.

The meters will also allow the District's cabs to map out routes with GPS technology and accept major credit cards. Officials estimated the average amount of time it takes to pay a cab fare could fall by up to 90 percent.

Cab drivers and riders alike will also be able to call for help in the event of trouble. By pressing hidden panic buttons, drivers can call police. If the passenger hits a similar button, one of the city's hack inspectors will respond.

"Our concern was that a lot of passengers will push that button when it really is a civil thing, and we didn't want to tie up [the Metropolitan Police Department]," D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton said. "When the driver pushes it, you know pretty well it's not going to be a civil matter."

The District selected VeriFone after receiving eight bids for the contract, and the company will be the only one that's allowed to install smart meters in the city's cabs.

"We should have a choice because if they only have one vendor, then that means someone's being paid under the table," said Carolyn Robinson, a taxi driver for Yellow Cab Company. "If the ultimate end is corporate takeover, then just tell us."

The installation fee also irked Robinson, who has regularly testified before lawmakers on behalf of other drivers.

"If you've got four or five kids and you're trying to survive, you don't have a disposable $500 to put into a meter," she said.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner