Pulse: Chatter: Feuds: Credit Check

Convenience comes at a price for cabbies

If you’ve been in a Philly cab and found yourself cashless, you’ve no doubt ogled the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s newly installed Taxitronic credit card machines and thought, “How convenient!” But if you’ve ever tried to use that handy little device, you’ve probably been told, “It’s not working,” or “The account’s not set up.”

Bald-faced lies, suggests James Ney, head of the PPA’s Taxi & Limousine division, who claims the cabbies are just resistant to change. If your cab has a Taxitronic machine, it should work, says Ney, who is overseeing covert measures to catch lying drivers.

So why are cabbies so crabby — and duplicitous — about the new technology? Ronald Blount, head of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, asks, “You got a minute?” before reciting a laundry list of grievances: Drivers have to set up bank accounts to collect card payments; they have to wait several days for payments to be deposited; they lose five percent of fares in fees. It also galls drivers that the PPA has significantly increased certain fines as part of its hospitality initiative — like $150 for not wearing a collared shirt, up from $50 before the PPA took over. (Drivers’ suspicions about the machines weren’t exactly mollified when they learned that Taxitronic had hired David Boonin, the PPA consultant who lobbied for them.)

“With the credit cards, gas prices, and $65 a day for the cab, guys are coming home with nothing in their pockets,” says Blount. “Now they only want to work Friday and Saturday, when people are more likely to carry cash.”

Some of the 1,200-plus drivers represented by the Taxi Workers Alliance have taken to demonstrating outside the office of State Rep John Perzel, who engineered the state takeover of the PPA a few years ago. “We’re going to keep protesting,” says Blount, alluding to the city-wide cab strike in May of last year. “We want the PPA out, and we’re not going to stop until we get a new regulatory body.”