Credit cabs

"You talking to me?" New York taxis start accepting Visa and Amex.

By Suzy Hansen
July 24, 2000 11:30PM (UTC)
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In what may be the biggest news to hit urban transportation since the E-ZPass, New York's cash-and-change-laden citizens can now pay for their cab rides with credit cards. The plastic-friendly taxi has arrived.

No more fumbling with cash, handwritten receipts, or germ-infested change. Taxitronics, a Long Island City, N.Y., company, has invented a credit card machine specifically designed for taxis. Attached directly to the meter, it uses an extension that is conveniently located over the passenger's head for a quick swipe to paradise.

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"It allows the passenger and driver to carry less cash and the business traveler will be able to have a receipt for tips and tolls," explained Allan J. Fromberg, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission deputy commissioner for public information. To be fair, cabs were already providing receipts, but some apparently claim the microscopic print is unsuited for expense reports. "The commission, under the leadership of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, likes to anticipate ways to make life more convenient for the consumer."

The commission has encouraged cab companies to voluntarily test the apparatus in 50 cabs across the city. Considering that 12,187 taxis (a number fixed by state legislature) roam Manhattan daily, swipe-happy travelers may be hard-pressed to find a credit-ready cab. If they do, they should know that they're part of a six-month experiment intended to gauge customer reactions.

The news appears to have not yet reached the rank and file. One Haitian cabby, hailed on 16th Street and Fifth Avenue, replied with a smirk (and several shakes of his head) after being anxiously asked whether he accepted credit cards. "There is no such cab," he said, driving off.

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The commission may bump the number of credit card cabs to 500. Unfortunately, the process isn't cheap: modifying a non-credit meter made by Taxitronic costs $550; installing a new system costs $950. Meanwhile, American Express and Visa are subsidizing the experiment and Taxitronics has offered financial incentives as well. (This may be why these taxis will not accept the Discover Card; MasterCard is OK.)

Taxitronic meters are also being tested in Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia and that particularly cab-congested town, Colorado Springs. But for New Yorkers, the concept will take some getting used to; after all, it's hard to imagine the typical New York cabby leaning over the plexiglass partition and mumbling, "Paper or plastic?"


Suzy Hansen

Suzy Hansen, a former editor at Salon, is an editor at the New York Observer.

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