Greater Greater Washington

Taxis


Taxis will have credit card readers, and choice

You'll be able to use credit cards in DC taxis by March 30. Instead of one single credit card machine in all cabs, drivers will get the freedom to choose their own technology. But they'll still have to install an in-car display screen that regulators will choose; is that necessary?


Interactive screen in a NYC taxi. Photo by Aaron Landry on Flickr.

The DC Taxicab Commission (DCTC) went through a long bidding process to pick a single piece of technology to go in every taxi. This would take credit cards, show GPS information and ads (whose revenue the taxis would get a cut of), report taxi locations back to the DCTC, and more.

Verifone's bid won, and DCTC started requiring taxis to install Verifone's devices. But a challenge by rivals blocked the process, and on Friday the DCTC partly threw in the towel. Instead of forcing every cab to use Verifone's device, they are instead going to just require that every taxi accept credit cards in some way; the specific technology is up to the driver.

Ron Linton told the Post's Mike DeBonis that their approach changed because the marketplace changed:

"A year ago, when we came up with the 'smart meter' concept, it was a way to get credit cards and the other kind of technological things we wanted in the cabs quickly," he said. "We couldn't say, 'Do this,' because where would the drivers go? What would they get? Since then, there are six, seven, eight companies coming in here offering credit card services. .. They also are offering electronic reservations, which we want."
If the DCTC picks a single piece of technology, everyone's stuck with that choice, whether they made the best call or a bad one, and even if technology evolves.

In that case, doesn't this same logic apply to other features as well? DeBonis writes that Linton plans a new procurement for the system that will have "an interactive screen, GPS navigation and 'panic buttons' to hail authorities." Why should DCTC pick a single piece of technology to do this? Most of this is nice to have, but really not that central to a taxi rider's experience.

One argument for a centralized technology choice, which Councilmember Mary Cheh made when passing the original bill which mandated these credit card, GPS, interactive screen, and panic button systems (and a standard color scheme for taxis), is that taxi drivers are often not the most cutting-edge when it comes to technology. Plus, since most people pick taxis based on whichever one shows up rather than choosing a company ahead of time, there isn't really much incentive today for a taxi to install a better but more expensive system. It probably won't draw more riders.

Therefore, that thinking goes, drivers will just install cheaper systems that could work poorly or break down a lot, and DCTC would spend a lot of effort monitoring and inspecting them, when it could just pick one system and ensure a baseline of quality.

But this also closes the door to innovation and opportunities for different vendors to compete. Any contract will likely run for a number of years, during which the manufacturer will have little reason to add features or make the devices better.

DCTC could just mandate outcomes rather than means, as it's doing with the credit card readers. Drivers could just pick any screen vendor, so long as its display meets certain requirements, like showing the rider the current location and sending GPS data back to DCTC. Drivers can keep the advertising revenue as an incentive to install a screen.

On the other hand, this could mean an incentive for drivers to pick a screen that gives them the most money (maybe by being most intrusive with its ads) rather than being most useful for the rider.

What do you think is betterletting drivers pick their in-car screens, even if their incentives don't match the rider's, or having regulators pick it, which locks all cabs into a single technology for a long period of time?

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Stupid question, but why can't they be authorized as debit transaction -- which would allievate some of the burdens of the expense for drivers?

by charlie on Jan 22, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

Cab leadership in DC is a clusterf*ck caused by too much interference from the City Council, and an utter inability of the cabbies to provide any self-direction themselves.

by Jasper on Jan 22, 2013 10:24 am • linkreport

Most important: the machines should be tied to the meter itself. If the credit card or GPS is broken, the cab shouldn't be able to turn on the meter or transport passengers.

by Adam L on Jan 22, 2013 10:26 am • linkreport

I say let regulators pick the technology. If the bidding process is open, competitive, and fair, DCTC would allow some market input while also exercising its role as a regulator. The city is moving to standardize cabs with a common paint scheme. Mandating a particular in-car technology for credit cards and display screens seems a natural extension of that effort.

I understand the desire to let cabs choose and promote competition, but I don't think the benefits of that competition will really be passed onto the taxi user.

by Jamie Scott on Jan 22, 2013 10:28 am • linkreport

drivers will get the freedom to choose their own technology

I anticipate widescale implementation of the "Card Skimmer 2000" technology. Don't think I'll be handing over my card to the tender mercies of cabbie-rigged technology anytime soon.

by Dizzy on Jan 22, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

All the cabs with existing credit card devices just break them or turn them to the side, it's beyond annoying. This seems like it'll just enable that kind of action.

by Eric on Jan 22, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

I like the idea of competition, but at this point, I think DC cabs have shown that they need as much oversight as possible. Unfortunately, DCTC doesn't really give this, so I'm not sure what the solution is. But I think a standardized reader would be better; it would allow DCTC to have the experience necessary to know if a cabbie is telling the truth about "it's broken" or "no one can fix it," which they wouldn't have with other technologies.

by Matt on Jan 22, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

One big reason incentive for DCTC and the city to get the GPS devices from one vendor is so that the devices actually work with whatever tracking system the city uses. I'm not super familiar with city procurement rules but it is likely easier to procure from a single vendor. The downside, as you say, is that you end up with vendor lock-in. Since cab drivers have little expertise or even knowledge on these things it's unlikely that producing a list of requirements would work. The city's only alternative option then would be to approve a slate of devices that cab drivers could choose from. I'm not sure how feasible that is under city procurement processes.

The city isn't mandating these devices in cabs so that passengers can look at a map and cabs can get a little revenue from ads. They are doing it so that the city can collect a whole boatload of data about cab trips, cab availability, and traffic throughout the city. The primary consideration should be making sure the screens provide accurate and useful data to the city.

by MLD on Jan 22, 2013 11:08 am • linkreport

I think the body of evidence shows that taxi drivers of this city will take the least common denominator of service and quality in order to maximize their own profits and ease of operation.

At present, is anything stopping drivers from installing credit card readers in their cabs or using any one of the numerous phone-based readers like Square, Verifone Payware or Intuit GoPayment? Is anything stopping them from buying newer, safer vehicles? Is anything stopping them from driving more safely or avoiding circuitous routes just to make more money? Is anything stopping them from actually taking people where they want to go?

Why is the city refusing to regulate the industry when it is fully aware of the tension between drivers and customers in this city?

I think more regulation and standardization of this industry is required. The best case scenario is one in which the taxicab companies agree to shoulder some of the burden of credit card fees in exchange for a standardized system of the city's choosing. I believe this plan was recently implemented in San Francisco, which had an unregulated reader requirement for about a year until the city decided to change it.

by Scoot on Jan 22, 2013 11:09 am • linkreport

Unless this rule is on the books, the whole purpose of having card readers in cabs will likely get torpedoed by drivers who don't want to pay a percentage of their fare to credit card companies: http://gothamist.com/2013/01/02/fyi_broken_taxi_credit_card_readers.php

by 7r3y3r on Jan 22, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

@7r3y3r

The percentage of the transaction taken by credit card companies is peanuts compared to the massive underreporting of fares and tips that is SOP among cabbies. THAT is the real reason for the opposition - electronic records and paper trails make falsifying income for tax purposes much more difficult.

by Dizzy on Jan 22, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

Please. If cabbies can't even be bothered to carry change in this city, then, without a built-in, continuously reporting monitoring system to make sure the cabbies are actually TAKING the cards, 90%+ of cabbies will just tell you the reader is broken or maybe just outright refuse to take your card.

I'm glad Uber got into the taxi business. Maybe we'll have a snowball's chance of getting decent service.

by Ms. D on Jan 22, 2013 12:06 pm • linkreport

I must call out as HogWash the continuously negative experiences people here have had w/DC cabs. I've lived in the city since 2000 and can count the number of "bad" experiences I've had. This excludes the refusals to pick up.

Yes, I have been in hot cabs, smelly cabs, newport-infused cabs and the like and while those have been unpleasant experiences, they weren't horrifying. I believe people here have similarly unpleasant experiences and morph them into everyday experiences. It's the standard gripe-affair.

But then I've taken NY cabs...which aren't a ball of fun. Now that I think about it, which american city has our preferred taxi system?

by HogWash on Jan 22, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

New York. They're far better than DC.

by Tim Krepp on Jan 22, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

I would prefer the New York system as well.

by Scoot on Jan 22, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport

Agree - the New York cabs are far better. Sometimes it is tough to catch one at busy times, but they are fast (unlike DC cabs) and you know what you're getting (consistent quality and devices).

by Jamie Scott on Jan 22, 2013 1:25 pm • linkreport

New York. They're far better than DC.

Really? Why do you say?

by HogWash on Jan 22, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

I can use credit cards, they've never declined to take me where I want to go, the cars are uniformly in better shape, the air conditioning/heating works, their drivers consistently give me less attitude, etc.

Also, I can use credit cards. BECAUSE IT"S FREAKING 2013 ALREADY!

by Tim Krepp on Jan 22, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

New York is much easier because of the standardization.

I know we all want to keep Uber free and legal but thats because the regular cabs are so poor anyway. I'd agree with Scoot that before we start allowing more market based solutions lets make sure that the cab operators in this city are actually working in good faith first. Otherwise you end up with more of the same.

Let's make them play be the rules then we'll talk.

by drumz on Jan 22, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

Drumz, that makes absolutely no sense. We have a group of people who overwhelmingly (yes, HogWash, overwhelmingly) provide poor (even CRIMINALLY poor) service to the community. The community needs a service like that, but is upset with the quality of service they're receiving (and, even, burdened by it...I'd like to invite HogWash to try to get a standard cab to show up at my house...and, yes, refusal of service is a HUGE problem, whether call-out or on the street), so an entrepreneur comes up with a service that is really good and the customers are finally happy. Let's stop them and make the cabs play by the rules? NO!

Cabbies in DC have consistently shown that they have no interest in playing by the rules. Whether it be something relatively minor (like refusing to adjust - or even turn on - heating and air conditioning) or major (refusing service to people based on destination, inflating fares - by taking longer routes, fudging add-ons, or not using the meter if they think the customer doesn't know better), I've had DC cabbies do all of these things (stories abound...perhaps the best one being the time I insisted a cabbie take the route I desired home, and he pulled over and told me to get out, but still wanted me to pay the fare already accrued - about 6 blocks' worth). Despite being a violation of the DC cab regulations. It appears to me that the only way we can get through to these cabbies that we're sick of it is to hit them straight in the pocket book. Don't want to pay a few cents in CC processing fees, or have to keep your books honest? Fine, I'll shop elsewhere.

I don't think we should have un- or less-regulated cars for street hail. But for a call-out system...yep. Call-outs are one area where cabs in DC fail extra hard (have I ever told you about the time I almost missed a 7 AM flight because THREE separate cab companies gave me the run-around about my pick up?), so it's even sweeter to give that business to someone who appreciates it enough to provide a high-quality service. Plus, Uber is regulated now. And THEY follow the rules. I look forward to using their taxi dispatch service in the future.

by Ms. D on Jan 22, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

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by JustMe on Jan 22, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

They've never declined to take me where I want to go, the cars are uniformly in better shape, the air conditioning/heating works, their drivers consistently give me less attitude, etc.

Never? Well lucky you. Most of my friends (who live in NY) have acknowledge the difficulty in us getting a cab. From where I sit, not being able to hail a cab at 12am to get me to my hotel at 51st as I walked IN THE RAIN, will always be a memorable experience. I believe I've been in only 2 cabs who refused to turn on the AC. Less attitude? 80% of my driver experiences have been good.

I'd like to invite HogWash to try to get a standard cab to show up at my house...and, yes, refusal of service is a HUGE problem, whether call-out or on the street), so an entrepreneur comes up with a service that is really good and the customers are finally happy

No need to. HogWash has ended up in various parts of the city and has been refused once the driver found out I was travelling EOTR. Years ago it was so bad that a driver became "unavailable" AFTER I got in the car and told him where I was going which prompted me to act as if I were on my cell each time I wanted a cab, opened the door and told them once I was in the cab. That particular time, I called the police while in the cab.

I'm sure I can one-up you with my taxi experiences but I recognize the bad ones represent a small portion of my experiences. BTW, everybody is not going to like nor have the ability to afford Uber's prices.

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by HogWash on Jan 22, 2013 4:40 pm • linkreport

I can not believe I tried to kick that football. Way to go, Lucy!

by Tim Krepp on Jan 22, 2013 4:45 pm • linkreport

"Sure, that store has sold me food that wasn't properly handled and I got sick from it, and their cashiers have blatantly ripped me off, and they've failed to take safety precautions that have put my safety in danger...but those problems were only uncomfortable, nothing to complain about. And plenty of times, I managed to buy my groceries there for the right price and without getting food-borne illness! Good enough!"

Ask the people that taxi drivers almost hit with regularity, or the passengers of cabs that I've seen involved in accidents, or those who paid $25 for what should have been a $10 trip if those things are okay. Hint: they aren't, and neither is refusing someone service, accepting a job and failing to show up for it, exposing your passengers to extreme environments (including hot, cold, and cigarette smoke), or not undertaking basic business practices like carrying change or providing the payment options that customers desire. Nor is giving your customers attitude (really, forcing a single woman out on the side of the road at 3 AM because she won't let you scam her into driving all over creation and doubling her fare? Yep, I'm talking about the time the driver kicked me out but still wanted paid).

How is it being hard to hail a cab ANY different from having cabs who won't take runs? So, I can get a guy to stop IF I'm in the "right" neighborhood AND it's not "peak" time (there are plenty of times it's nearly impossible to hail a cab in DC...of course the difference between DC and NYC is that our transit system might be CLOSED when that happens), but he won't take me where I'm going so...I'm exactly no better off than I would have been in NYC...except the whole being able to take public transit thing, if it's late.

Uber's "fee" for their new taxi service is the fare + $2 call-out fee + 20%. I'm unsure why a reasonable tip for good service and a regulated fee is an extremely large amount of money. Besides, the point of Uber is not to replace taxis, it's to cost them enough business that they shape up. It apparently hasn't worked, so I'm more convinced than ever that NOTHING will make taxis remotely decent, reliable, or safe in this city and I'm just glad I have an alternative.

Oh, and HogWash, I couldn't get cabs to take me to the Hill (not "Hill East" or "Not really the Hill but we can get more rent if we say it is"...2 blocks from the Supreme Court) nor pick me up there in the morning for flights with any reliability. It's beyond me why taxi drivers in this city are uninterested in making a living, but they have certainly shown me that they neither want nor generally deserve my business.

by Ms. D on Jan 22, 2013 7:22 pm • linkreport

EXCEPT for the ones who have used the cab ride as their opportunity to make a pass at a captive, solo female. Those guys will carry my luggage all the way to my bedroom. Of course, they're expecting a little more "tip" than I'm generally willing to give them. Plus, it's a hassle to find ANOTHER cab when I order them to let me out because they've just announced they're taking me to dinner instead of home.

I have my doubts about you being able to one-up me, as I have lived through every story in the book, except being in more than a minor fender-bender. But the heavy-handed flirtation (sometimes more like Dan Stressel's definition of flirtation than mine) takes the cake. Would you like your ride with a side of sexual harassment, baby?

by Ms. D on Jan 22, 2013 7:29 pm • linkreport

Ms D,

You may have misunderstood me. Or I just didn't explain well.

I think DC Cabs as a whole have proven that they already run the show. Rather than see a bunch of existing rules about credit cards be abused I would rather see the city really enforce the rules it already has.

In short, it's nice to think that deregulating taxis will fix the problem in DC but I think it's rather the fact that the existing regulations aren't enforced in a way that is meaningful so I don't think that the above proposals will meaningfully improve DC cabs.

by Drumz on Jan 22, 2013 11:27 pm • linkreport

MsD, those seem to have been the majority of your cab experiences..not mine. The same applies for friends whom I know. Our experiences are apparently dramatically different from yours. Like you, I often tell cabs I'm going to SE (near the stadium) out of habit and don't know whether it's still necessary. Again, my "hot" cab experiences have been limited to about 2--possibly 3 during a 12-year period but unlike yours, mine were the exception..not the rule.

After having a guest miss her flight because VA, DC, and MD dispatched cabs (after two hours) never showed up, I no longer attempt to try and hop myself on metro. I don't keep continually chomping at that bit.

It apparently hasn't worked, so I'm more convinced than ever that NOTHING will make taxis remotely decent, reliable, or safe in this city and I'm just glad I have an alternative.

I'm not attempting to convince you otherwise. I'm only stating the opinion as the sometimes thuggish-looking black guy who lives EOTR.

Would you like your ride with a side of sexual harassment, baby?

If it gets me home...maybe.

by HogWash on Jan 23, 2013 7:32 am • linkreport

Well with standards like:
- dispatch cabs are completely unreliable so don't use them
- hey, some come-ons are expected, I mean they're taking you home!
- always tell cab drivers I'm going someplace else so they'll actually pick me up

No wonder DC cabs are doing so great! I'm actually not sure how the bar could get any lower.

In a city with a working cab system, people should be able to rely on dispatch cabs, ESPECIALLY because there are plenty of times you can't get to the airport on Metro!

In a city with a working cab system, you shouldn't have to endure sexual harassment in order to get home, because you're paying the cab driver to take you because that's their damn job. Not sure what your place of employment is like, but if I were to harass clients/customers or fellow employees, I doubt the response would be "well he got you that file, right?"

In a city with a working cab system, cab drivers will take you to your destination without protest, because that's their job, that's the law, and they get paid to do so!

Personally I think Uber Taxi has the potential to really upend things, because it is not much more expensive than a regular cab, the system uses regular cab drivers, and the system puts tools in place to ensure quality service.

by MLD on Jan 23, 2013 8:57 am • linkreport

Am I the only one who just doesn't pay a taxi driver who tries to screw me over? If he doesn't take the route I ask, then tries to upcharge me and doesn't explain the fees, and then won't let me out when I ask him to let me get a cab who'll take the route I want, he's lucky to get a $5 bill and a brush-off when we get somewhere near where I'm going. And yes, I've had that happen more than once in DC.

I've never had a problem with that beyond a cab driver following me for a block and yelling a couple times. Now, this isn't an argument that such service is okay--but frankly, I don't see why we should even bother caving to negligent service. To extend Ms. D's analogy, if I get home and find that the milk and meat I bought at the store are spoiled, I'm going back there and getting a refund.

(Also, I do understand that my "nice try, you're not getting the money you're claiming to have earned" may not be palatable if a driver is already in the sexually harassing/threatening mode of operation. Jerks.)

by worthing on Jan 23, 2013 9:20 am • linkreport

One of the reasons I hate taking cabs is because none of them take credit cards even when they're equipped to do so, and not just in DC but in every city I've taken a cab in. You'll see on the cab window that it accepts cards but conviniently for the driver, the machine is always broken or they just flat out refuse to accept it. DC will be no different. even if you force drivers to have the technology to accept them, they will still find ways to wiggle out of doing it because that's just how they are, and they know they can get away with it.

by Matt on Jan 23, 2013 9:52 am • linkreport

. Now, this isn't an argument that such service is okay--but frankly, I don't see why we should even bother caving to negligent service. To extend Ms. D's analogy, if I get home and find that the milk and meat I bought at the store are spoiled, I'm going back there and getting a refund.

Yes! Yes! Yes! That's why I'm often confused why people complain about hot taxis. I've been in countless and depending on how I feel, I will ask them to turn on the AC. My guess is that most people don't address the bad service in real time and save their complaints til after the fact. It's similar to hearing people complain about "rude" metro riders. This morning a lady was listening to her loud earphones and had ALL her bags seated next to her. A younger lady walks up, looks down, then complains to her friend that she doesn't know why people hoard seats. At the next stop, another woman gets on the train, looks down, asks the lady could she have the seat and the woman moved her stuff w/o any incident. Chances are, the first lady will use today as her justification why riders are rude when she took no such initiative to exercise her own "rights."

by HogWash on Jan 23, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

The headline on this article I found could easily be "Cab drivers who actually give a crap about their business love Uber Taxi":
http://techcrunch.com/2013/01/23/ironically-cab-drivers-love-the-new-ubertaxi-in-dc/

by MLD on Jan 23, 2013 11:21 am • linkreport

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by JustMe on Jan 23, 2013 11:25 am • linkreport

DC used to have great taxi service. A map printed on paper with clearly marked zones. The fare based on where the trip started and where it ended. If the driver got lost or made a bad turn it was not the passenger's problem. Ride sharing conserved gas, made the most of available vehicles, and rewarded efficient drivers. Above all else, the fares were affordable for all. Now after government meddling we have sky high fares. Inaccurate meters that cheat customers. Incentives for drivers to not take the most direct route. And now we see even more bizarre proposals to make the system more complicated, more expensive, intrusive for both drivers and passengers, and requiring that bankers get one more way to pick our pockets with high credit card fees.

by txoxy on Jan 23, 2013 7:17 pm • linkreport

I'd love to stop "chomping at the bit" of trying to get a call-out cab for flights, but I have no realistic alternative for most of my work travel. When I fly out of National (about 2/3 of the time), I'm almost exclusively starting out on the 7 AM DCA-ORD on a Friday morning. I have no choice in that matter, if I'd like to make it to my destination. National is a mad house on Friday mornings, so I NEED to be there by 5, 5:30 at the ABSOLUTE latest, and since I really don't want to have to explain why I missed my flight to my boss, I'd prefer 5. I call for a cab the night before (generally between 9 and 10 PM), and make myself clear that the pickup is 4:30 AM, SHARP. I call again when I wake up at 3:30 to make sure they're still aware I still need that cab. If the cab doesn't arrive by 4:40, I call again (technically, showing up at 4:45 would be okay, but by the time they're 10 minutes late, I start to worry it's more than just getting behind schedule, and have been proven right time and again). Obviously, needing to be at the airport by 5:30 at the absolute latest, Metro is not an option.

When I fly out of Dulles, most of the time I could *technically* take the Metro/bus, as my flights usually depart around Noon, but I'd need to be on the Metro by 8, probably a smidge earlier to be safe - two+ weeks of luggage, documents, electronics, etc. in tow. Flyer cabs at least usually show up, so I guess I've got that going for me. My work will not pay for 2+ weeks of parking, so even if I had a car, it's cab or Metro, and hauling nearly 100 pounds of luggage spread over a suitcase, duffel, carry-on (shoulder, and it does slip over the handle of my checked wheelie, but still), and purse on a train, then another train, then a bus, at rush hour, is not an experience I'd like to try. The bottom line is that taxi service is a necessary part of any medium-size city or bigger's transportation options, and DC is doing a *ahem*-poor job of making ours work.

As for what city I'd like DC's cabs to be like, it's actually a whole country - or at least a sizable chunk of one. The BEST cab experiences I've had have been in Vietnam. Vinasun and Mai Linh serve most cities of modest-to-large size, and are fantastic. Clean, modern vehicles; professional, courteous drivers (Vinasun's wear a dress shirt, tie, slacks, and a NAME TAG) with a stellar knowledge of the area geography; and Vinasun takes credit cards (Mai Linh might...I admit that my hotels preferred Vinasun on my last trip so I almost exclusively used them as well as almost always paying in cash, but boy is it nice to run what local currency I have down and just charge my ride to the airport to depart). My only complaint is that it is worrisome to watch the driver sling my big bag into the SUV...they're, um, generally not big, burly guys, and I kinda wish they'd *let* me put it in the car myself, for the sake of their own spinal health (I always say you're not allowed to pack it if you can't lift it). But I'd settle for service resembling parts or all of the service in many, many other cities. In Austin, all cabs that serve the airport must accept credit cards, so most in the city cheerfully do so. In almost any city in China, you can't walk 10 feet without stumbling over an available cab. In NYC, the cabs are easy-to-spot, pretty professional, and know where they're going, even if it can sometimes be tricky to get one (though no worse than high-demand times in many parts of DC...FWIW, that's why I'm opposed to a limited medallion system). Boston cabbies can have a bit of attitude, and they *are* expensive, but they've always shown up when called and taken me where I want to go. I've never once been downright miserable in a cab in any of these cities. Sure, traffic is dangerous in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong, so you do often feel like you're tempting fate to be in a car AT ALL. Yes, in most of China, the cars are small and a little on the old side (but NEVER as rickety as some DC cabs I've been in). Sure, I might be paying more than DC in some other places, but it's worth it to have a ride that is comfortable in temperature and smoke exposure (full disclosure: I SMOKE, and I've been in DC cabs that make me choke), with a polite driver who knows where he's going and isn't outright trying to scam me into paying more.

I've had *decent* cab rides, but I've had enough awful ones that I'm wary of what I'm going to be getting myself into EVERY time I hail or call a cab. Will this cab reek? Will this guy refuse to turn on the air in 100+ degree heat? Will he at least roll up the windows if it's below 50? Will this guy try to get my phone number? Will he kick me out if he doesn't like where I'm going (too close, too far, not enough return business, "bad" neighborhood)? Will he try to bilk me by taking the longest route possible? I don't love paying extra for Uber, but, so far, it's been a great alternative. I hope the taxi thing works out, as the posted article seemed to indicate it might. I would hope that the good cabbies out there would jump at the chance for a convenient opportunity for more business with a guaranteed 20% tip.

You do have one point though, HogWash, DC's cab drivers are SUPER racist, and even a little sexist. I have hailed numerous cabs for friends, because I know I have a better chance of getting one to stop than they do. The most memorable one was when I ran into a friend outside of work trying to hail a cab to get to a meeting. After chatting for a few minutes while he tried to flag down a cab, I told him to step back on the sidewalk and pretend he didn't know me. I got him a cab in about 30 seconds. Apparently the brown guy in the fancy suit was more threatening than the pasty girl in jeans (yay Fridays). I've even hailed cabs for white men, when the cabs have snubbed them for ladies. I know it can be a dangerous job, but COME ON. A guy in a finely-tailored suit, no matter his race, is NOT a threat...especially not downtown in the middle of the day. I did get a laugh out of that one, though, since the driver was like "hey, I thought I was driving YOU???" and I just smiled and said "you're fine...he only hates infidels" as I closed the door behind my friend and walked away (the driver did take him to his meeting).

by Ms. D on Jan 23, 2013 8:11 pm • linkreport

I am a frequent dc cab user for the past 15 years. The drivers are very friendly and knowledgeable. I think the problem is the dc gov't.

by david on Jan 23, 2013 8:35 pm • linkreport

txoxy...I don't remember the zone system being all sunshine and rainbows. I suppose that, thinking back, I had fewer *other* problems with cabs (smelly/rickety cars, not showing up for call-outs), but for the few years I lived here under the zone system, I lived on the border of 2 zones. I had to be very, um, assertive to keep the driver from going a few blocks out of his way to add an extra zone to the trip. And they tried real hard to convince me it was *fine*...it's faster, you know (no, it's not, and I know why you're doing this so TURN HERE). There was no hope for someone who didn't know the zone map to keep from being shafted. My less-knowledgeable/newer/visiting friends thought I was being universally, um, rude to drivers when I demanded they go this way or that, until one time, going across town with a group of friends newer to the city I let them let the driver go how he wanted to where we were going since my friends protested my "demands," and then dictated our way home. The ride home was HALF the price of the ride there, and took no longer. Yeah, drivers were so honest way back when...

Thankfully, worthing, nothing ill has ever come of the harassment, but it's a VERY uncomfortable situation. Here I am, trapped in your car, and you're flirting with me even as I drop hints about seeing my husband or not being interested or anything else I can think of, all while paying for the privilege. It's creepy and uncalled for, doubly so because, most of the time, they know where I live and maybe even have my phone number. I agree that some people read signals wrong, and since my neighborhood is viewed as "bad" while not actually being so, I've had a small handful of very nice cab drivers wait until I unlocked my door before driving off, when I've come home very late, and that's just being nice and following a social norm. I've had neighbors complain about that and, if they can't cite any other inappropriate behavior, I tell them to lighten up, the driver was just being nice. But the Flyer driver who actually exited the highway insisting he was going to take me to dinner (even if I *were* interested, I just got finished with a 24+ hour trip...food is the LAST thing on my mind, followed closely by romance...I just want to take a shower and sleep in my own bed)...wow. I bobbed and weaved for a good long while after he let me out (in some random part of Arlington) before hailing another cab and finally making it home. It's sad that there are times I can't take a simple cab ride...

And I do ask for consideration when the cab is uncomfortable. I have been told more times than I can remember that the A/C is broken or the heat is "a bit spotty" or "just doesn't get the back seat well" or been afraid to ask them to put the windows up because the cab REEKS and I'd rather suffer than suffocate. I'm no shrinking violet (remember, I had a driver order me out because I insisted he go my way - for an approximately $15 fare - rather than his way - for a $19 fare, as the cap was still in place then, but it would be over $25 without the cap), and have a knack for killing people with kindness. Honestly, the heat/AC thing, while a prevalent problem, is partly reminiscent of people fighting over the temp in their own car and mostly not that big of a deal. The bigger deals are refusals of service, scamming for higher fares, unsafe driving and/or cars, and creepy behavior. Though maintaining a *somewhat* comfortable temperature, to me, is basic customer service that any business person should think about. I had one retail job where we kept the heat low "to keep the customers comfortable in their winter clothes." After we reported that customers were complaining it was too cold, and several customers complained directly to management, we turned the heat up a bit. Sure, someone who would have the cab scorching hot or freezing cold might not get what they want, but maintaining a winter-time temp of 65-70 and summer temp of 72-78 is just common sense.

by Ms. D on Jan 23, 2013 8:47 pm • linkreport

most of the commentators above they are not regular cab riders or don't live in dc or lived in dc under 3years.I am a regular cab rider for the past 20 years. I like dc cabs . They are more reliable.when they get equipped with credit card reader will be more sufficient.

by Jason on Jan 23, 2013 9:04 pm • linkreport

More reliable than what, Jason? They're certainly not more reliable than cabs in any number of other cities around the world, nor even the Metro/bus if you look up arrival times before heading out to the stop (which is really saying something with how bad Metro can be lately). I *suppose* they're the most reliable option where there is no transit or the Metro system is closed... I think we all agree that credit card acceptance is a big deal, but most of us have our doubts about whether we will actually be able to *use* our credit card. That opinion, at least for me, is formed because many of the cabs that currently "accept" credit cards "can't" accept them most of the time.

I guess I haven't been using DC cabs as long as you...only 8 years consecutively. 14 years ago, when I was a wee young intern in DC, my employer put me in a cab to run an errand for the office, and that was the first time a cab driver aggressively hit on me. I swore off cabs for a while after that (much to my employer's chagrin for the rest of that internship, since there were many tasks they thought I should be taking a cab for subsequent to that and I insisted on doing it on foot or Metro), enduring some pretty miserable tasks on foot and transit to avoid them, though I did still have a few beep and leer at me on the street or while driving in the intervening years, and even to this day, when I am secure and mature enough to deal with it. I'll admit that I didn't use cabs *much* for the first 2 of those 8 years, since I was both hurting for money and many drivers refused to drive me home when I really needed a cab. It was apparently "too close" and "they couldn't get a return fare." Or maybe you live in the "other" Washington and are confusing places.

by Ms. D on Jan 23, 2013 11:06 pm • linkreport

Sorry, that made it sound like I've lived in DC for ALL of the last 14 years. I lived here for several months during that internship 14 years ago, during another internship a few years later, visited a number of times in between and after those, moved to the *area* just over 8 years ago, and moved into the District just shy of 8 years ago. So, not 20 years, but I do have *some* experience on the topic, especially since I acquired my current job just over 5 years ago and started traveling regularly, and especially since moving to a neighborhood that is not particularly well-served by transit (though it's not terrible on that measure) about 4 years ago.

by Ms. D on Jan 23, 2013 11:14 pm • linkreport

Somebody who thinks the zone system was better?

Man, I'll have some of whatever you're smoking.

The fares are cheaper now than they were under the zone system, at least for shorter trips, and especially for shorter trips when you have several people.

It wasn't clear, it was a constant argument with drivers about where you started, where you ended, and how much that was going to cost. If you had a reason to take a cab a short distance you were screwed if it crossed two zones. Then put a couple more people in your cab and inexplicably that costs more. It was a system designed entirely to create a flat fare for traveling between the Capitol and points downtown. It was a confusing mess for doing anything else.

Not sure if you've taken a cab recently but I feel like cabs are dirt cheap now when I take them compared to previously.

by MLD on Jan 24, 2013 8:59 am • linkreport

I can see how as a taxi driver you'd prefer to get payment via cash but it is extremely convenient for passengers who are short on cash to be able to pay by credit card.

by Chris on Jan 29, 2013 12:14 pm • linkreport

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