Alexandria’s cabbies pan proposed credit card mandate

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By Derrick Perkins

A measure that would require Alexandria-based taxicabs to accept major credit cards drew the ire of drivers during Saturday’s city council meeting.

As written, the proposal lets cab companies pick the credit cards accepted and the necessary equipment for processing the transactions. If approved by city council, which regulates the local industry, the requirement would go into effect in July.

Though not opposed to taking plastic outright, drivers complained bitterly that credit card fees would cut into their profits. City staff initially considered allowing drivers to pass along a surcharge for accepting plastic but dropped the stipulation for fear of driving away customers, officials said.

The drivers, independent contractors who own their vehicles, asked city council for more autonomy before approving the change. Cabbies, not the company owners, should decide what equipment to use and the credit cards they want to accept, the drivers argued.

But City Attorney Jim Banks said regulating the parent companies, rather than individual drivers, would prove easier for officials to enforce. Alexandria Yellow Cab’s top management agreed with Banks’ assessment.

General Manager Kyle Summers — and Yellow Cab owner Spencer Kimball — worried that drivers who prefer dealing with cash will tell customers their credit card machine is malfunctioning. Yellow Cab, which already installed credit card machines in its fleet of taxis, struggles to ensure all of its affiliated drivers follow the company policy, Kimball said.

He and Summers backed the proposal. Worried about potential competitors cutting into the taxicab industry, the pair argued requiring drivers to accept credit cards merely met customer expectations.

“Drivers won’t always want to accept credit cards, but the customers want to pay by credit card and, because we’re in the customer service industry, we need to offer what the customers want,” Summers said.

The idea of requiring cabs to accept credit cards emerged earlier this year, when city council approved a slew of taxi rate changes during its regular review of the industry. Mayor Bill Euille, backed by his colleagues, told city staff Saturday to address several of the concerns raised before bringing the measure back before city council later this month.