Credit cards in DC cabs: Really not that difficult

Shuttlesworth shows off his system.
(Mike DeBonis - The Washington Post)
There is one thing D.C.’s cab riders want more than anything else: to pay for their rides with credit cards.

Yet D.C.’s cab drivers, with a few exceptions, have been slow to adopt technology that is now widespread across the country. Drivers and company owners have pushed back on suggestions that they offer cashless payment options, calling them too expensive for an industry made up largely of independent driver-owned cabs.

But there’s a least one outfit that’s peddling a low-cost solution that goes some way toward undercutting the expense concerns. I met up Thursday with Pierre Shuttlesworth, a Chicago-based rep for EVO Merchant Services, which offers a taxi credit-card system whose upfront cost is at most a few hundred dollars.

The heart of the system is a mobile app that runs on tablet computers or cell phones and interfaces via Bluetooth with meters manufactured by the leading brands Centrodyne and Pulsar. With the investment of a mobile device — Shuttlesworth was using a 7-inch Samsung Galaxy tablet, which retails for $300 or less — a driver or company can offer credit card swipes almost immediately. EVO makes its money on fees — 24 cents per transaction, plus 1.59 percent of the total.

Shuttlesworth, who said he’s sold similar systems in Miami, San Francisco and Chicago, said he’s negotiating deals with several cab companies here as well as independent drivers.

One driver, Ema Ghezahegn who drives for Federal Cab, said she’s been pleased with the system and that she’s gotten more business and higher tips, more than offsetting the fees and initial investment.

Ron Linton, acting chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, said drivers and companies are free to offer credit card systems without needing the commission’s blessing.

But Linton said Friday he is proceeding with a citywide plan that could put standardized terminals in every city cab — terminals that would offer GPS tracking, maps and advertising along with card readers. A request for proposals, he said, should go out no later than January, and he is contemplating finding the terminals through a new surcharge.

”If we do it right, we’ll be at the head of the class,” he said.

That said, pursuing a fleetwide system will require a fair amount of time to evaluate proposals, enter into contracts and get all cabs equipped with a system that will require a great deal more work than opening up a mobile app.

As the EVO system shows, there’s nothing stopping city cabbies from accepting cards right now. I don’t want to suggest that Shuttlesworth is the only guy out there with a cab-ready credit-card system. But it illustrates getting card acceptance into every city cab is not the difficult or costly task some have made it out to be.

”I’ve never been in a city where 80 percent of the cabs don’t take credit cards,” Shuttlesworth said. “We’ve never been to a place like this, where there’s so much opportunity.”

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