Sunday, March 13, 2011

Backseat Swipes and Legal Charges

Beginning now with National Cab and soon with Luxor, the San Francisco taxicab fleet is converting to rear-seat, credit card/information terminals.

Among other things the new technology will have the ability to:
  • Decline or authorize credit cards or Paratransit Debit Cards.
  • Break down charges (meter fare, bridge tolls, airport fees, tips, etc)
  • Keep electronic waybill data.
  • Touch screen.
  • Keep numerous statistics.

These terminals will allow advertising under certain conditions:
  • There will be NO AUDIO.
  • Installation costs will be paid for from revenue and not charged to color schemes.
  • Ten percent of the advertising revenue is to be paid into the Driver Fund.
  • The content of the terminals will include a percentage of public service announcements. 
Drivers can be charged up to 5% of the credit card receipts:
  • There will be merchant accounts set up at a bank for each driver and the fares must be transferred to that account within two business days of payment.
  • These accounts must be allow the driver to withdraw funds at ATM machines.
  • The terminals must have the ability to display buttons that suggest tips based on the fare at the end of the trip.
There is lot more involved of course but, for me, these are the highlights.

Legal fees

Charging the fees to drivers will be a sticking point for some but a relief for others. Those paying 10% to 12% should like the new arrangement. Those, like myself, who currently pay no fees will bitch.

Actually some of us have already bitched long and loud to Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi. Many at the TAC meetings - especially Barry Korengold - were strongly against passing the fee onto drivers. But, to no avail.

The merchant account agreements with credit card companies do no allow the charges to be passed on to the customer. However, there are aspect of this that might either be not so bad or maybe even good.

Not So Bad
  • According to (soon to be/current) Desoto owner Hansu Kim studies have shown that the prompts on these terminals encourage customers to tip larger than before - much more than enough to cover the 5% charge.
  • Of course Kim has some connection with Veriphone - one of the companies that owns the terminals. I've done my own research both by talking to customers who have used the system in New York and my own experience of using a front seat terminal (see photo) at Green Cab.
  • The people from New York agree that they tend to tip more and my customers at Green are also tipping higher with the new terminal. They can see all the data and, if they sit in the front seat, they like playing with the gadget and this stimulates them to tip more generously.
  • The new arrangement will allow the above-board taxicab companies to profit by not having to pay the fees that they have been paying for the last several years.
  • Last but not lease - taxicab companies aren't allowed to be merchants so they won't be tempted to misuse driver's money.
Maybe Even Good
  • If they had passed on credit card charges to the public, the MTA would probably be less likely to:
  • Agree to a meter increase.
  • Agree to an added fee for taking radio calls.
One  negative aspect that is the fate of that poor, Russian-speaking lady at the shed near Checker Cab. She'll be out of a job and probably doesn't qualify for Unemployment Insurance.

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