The Taxi Link: Will smart meters end up in court, again?

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The D.C. Taxicab Commission is moving full steam ahead with implementing a so-called “Modern Taxi System” (MTS). Yet in several areas MTS resembles the commission’s push last year to install one company’s credit card processors and screens in the back of all cabs, which ultimately failed when the D.C. Court of Appeals overturned the city’s $35 million contract with Verifone because of irregularities in the procurement process. Nevertheless, at last week’s standing-room-only commission hearing on MTS, D.C. taxi chair Ron Linton expressed a willingness to once again take an act-now-ask-questions-later approach. 

“[No one] can foresee and understand everything that will work or not work. I think that’s part of the human nature of things. But I certainly would not take the position that a regulation adopted today is now in concrete forever,” said Linton. The Taxi Link co-host Tony Norman disagrees with the chairman’s interpretation. “A regulation is set forever unless the Taxicab Commission comes back and modifies it… [or] there’s a deadline within the provision itself.” Norman continued, “What you have going on here is a rush to judgment… [There’s a] small group of individuals that are coming to these conclusions about these regulations and then they’re being railroaded through.”

It was Creative Mobile Technologies (CMT), a Verifone competitor, which successfully filed suit to overturn last year’s smart meter contract. Now CMT is looking to secure the MTS contract and the company is worried that the punishment for drivers who use alternative credit card processors (with lower transaction fees) isn’t severe enough. “No taxicab company, independent owner or taxicab operator should use any device or service for processing of digital payments other than the approved MTS,” CMT’s Jessie Davis said in testimony before the commission Wednesday. Davis recommended that a “violation of this provision will be grounds for immediate removal of the MTS… and suspension or revocation of the taxicab owner or operator’s license.” Linton assured Davis that under the MTS regulations drivers can’t use alternative credit card readers. “All the transactions have to go through the PSP,” or Payment Service Provider, said Linton, who had numerous follow up questions for experts like Davis, but few if any questions for drivers.

As D.C. cabbies fight to maintain their ability to contract with the credit card processor of their choice, next door in Alexandria drivers are engaged in a similar struggle. Ahead of the Alexandria city council’s scheduled vote Tuesday evening to mandate credit card acceptance, drivers are holding a protest Monday outside city hall. Drivers are not opposing the mandate but they’re concerned they may lose their ability to choose their own credit card processor, explained Aurora Vasquez, co-director of Tenants and Workers United, a grassroots group working with taxi drivers in Alexandria and Arlington. “We want to be very sure that that transition to credit card acceptance is respectful of the fact that cab drivers are independent contractors and through that lens we firmly believe that cab drivers should be allowed to select the credit card processing vendor of choice, so long as… [it] meets certain security standards,” Vasquez told The Taxi Link.

While Alexandria cabbies are protesting outside city hall, D.C. drivers will be gathering inside the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW for an oversight hearing of the D.C. Taxicab Commission before the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, chaired by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh. Appearing on The Taxi Link, taxi leader Mechal Chame, board member of The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers, said he’ll be testifying at the oversight hearing. “We will fight back,” said Chame.

The Taxi Link concluded with an interview with Cyril Crocker, the kickoff to a series of interviews with members of the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Crocker, who is a lifetime resident of D.C., worked in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development under Mayor Anthony Williams. Now a commercial realtor, Crocker told The Taxi Link that he views cabbies as independent businessmen, like himself. “I have a lot of respect for the drivers in this city. It’s not an easy living.”

* This post was edited since its original posting.

The Taxi Link is sponsored by The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers.  

Monday’s hearing of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., but one agency is set to appear before the taxi commission. 

In Alexandria, Monday’s protest (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) and Tuesday evening’s vote are scheduled to take place at city hall, 301 King Street, Old Town, Alexandria.



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