Getting There by Cab, and Plastic ; as Part of a Fare-Hike Plan, New York Taxi Drivers Prepare to Accept Credit Cards

Article excerpt

The minivan-taxi carrying Ellen Lewis Gideon approaches Grand Central Terminal, steering around double-parked delivery trucks and coming to a stop near a fire hydrant. In a hurry to catch her train, Ms. Gideon fumbles for the cash to pay the driver.

Groping for money while crammed in the back seat - almost every New Yorker knows the feeling. But by late next year, Gideon, a publicist who relies on cabs a lot, and other taxi customers will have an alternative: credit cards.

Yes, New York's famed taxis - the yellow icons of the street that inspired the TV show "Taxi" and movie "Taxi Driver" - are being dragged into the 21st century. The Taxi and Limousine Commission recently announced its goal to have all 12,000 cabs equipped with credit-card readers by November of next year. When it happens, New York's limousines for the common man will join those in Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, and Dallas, where cabs already take plastic.

Advocates offer two reasons for accepting cards: convenience and safety. Passengers want the option, and drivers, with less cash on hand, are less subject to robbery. Opponents question how secure the transaction will be, and many drivers are worried about forking over more earnings to credit-card companies.

The policy is part of the city's announcement of a 26 percent fare hike - the first in eight years, which took effect last week. This means each mile now costs $2 instead of $1.50.

Customers rarely ask to pay with a credit card, says Roland Jacques, a Brooklyn-based cabdriver who expresses concern about the added expense he is likely to incur. The equipment will cost hundreds of dollars, and the Taxi and Limousine Commission wants the industry to pay for it.

Additionally, cabbies will be expected to pay a transaction fee and some portion of the back-end processing fee charged by the credit-card companies. They might also pay a small part of the monthly cellular airtime fee assessed for credit-card transactions. …