Modernization Begins for D.C. Taxicabs
Barrington M. Salmon | , WI Staff Writer | 7/11/2012, 12:34 p.m.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray said the city has taken a major step toward modernization of the taxicab industry with an agreement that will lead to the installation of what is called a smart meter system.
The system, Gray said, will allow customers to pay by credit card, and has driver verification, a safety-response system for both driver and passenger, Internet access, GPS tracking and other advanced features.
"We've made another major step in bringing the taxicab system into the 21st century," said Gray during a Thursday morning press conference at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest. "This moves us from the middle of the pack and will make Washington's taxicabs among the most advanced taxi fleets in the country."
"... I'm absolutely delighted that we've reached this stage," the mayor said during the July 5 press conference.
The proposed five-year, $35 million contract is with VeriFone Systems, Inc., a San Jose, California-based company that will install, maintain and operate the meters.
Drivers will pay what Gray calls a "modest" one-time installation fee of between $300 and $500. When asked if cabbies had to have that money upfront, Gray deferred to Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton who said city officials would be willing to work with cab drivers if they needed to pay the fee in installments. Those taxicabs that already have compatible meters will not need to be retrofitted. He said he hoped to have the new meters installed in the estimated 7,000 taxicabs by the end of the year.
VeriFone Vice President for Taxi Services Amos Tamam said he was pleased his company was able to outbid seven other competitors to get this contract.
"We're very proud that the District has selected VeriFone to provide an integrated platform that represents state-of-the-art secure payment and digital content delivery and will provide a better experience for riders," Tamam said.
He offered a demonstration of the system to members of the media, which included voice-guided navigation for drivers to any location in the Northeast U.S., a payment screen that will cut the transaction time to about five seconds, and a television monitor that will show headlines and programming from NBC stations.
"It will offer primetime content, the weather and headlines expanded to give passengers more information," said Tamam of the exclusive agreement VeriFone has signed with NBC.
An added benefit of the proposal, Gray said, is that the 50 cent-per-ride surcharge the city plans to charge customers will pay installation costs for the meters and also finance the operating costs of the commission through a trust fund.
"The fund will be fueled by the surcharge," said Gray. "In 2013, it will also pay the commission's $2.4 million budget. That will mean several million dollars in savings for the city."
Gray, 69, encouraged members of the D.C. Council to move quickly to approve the contract that he said would benefit the riding public, the drivers and the public at large.
But while Gray focused on this development being consummation of a promise he made earlier in his tenure, not all cab drivers are comfortable with the new plan.