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NYC cabbies don’t want your plastic

Jeremy Simon

Credit card readers may have been installed in nearly half of all New York taxi cabs, but that doesn’t mean cabbies are welcoming plastic with open arms. In fact, Big Apple cab drivers are pretty hostile to card payments.

New York cabbies are a resourceful group. Reports by the New York Times, New York Magazine and the New York Post found that some cab drivers have found strategies to accomplish what two strikes and a lawsuit couldn’t. Their creative approach? Deceit, trickery and outright lies.

The NY Times uncovered some of the claims cab drivers used to dissuade credit card payments. These include:

  • “There is a minimum cab fare for credit card use.” (There isn’t, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.)
  • There is a 35-cent transaction fee for credit cards. (Not so.)
  • “It’s too short a ride.” (No such thing.)
  • “It better be a good credit card.” (Passengers can always pay with cash if the card is declined.)
  • The device doesn’t have to be activated until the new year. (If it is installed, passengers can use it.)

The friends I spoke with back in New York had yet to try and pay a fare with plastic, so I don’t have any good stories to share at present. Perhaps readers can provide some of their own taxi cab confessions.

The reasons cabbies haven’t warmed to credit cards are likely similar to why some other businesses have chosen not to accept plastic, including the way credit card interchange fees eat up earnings and the fact that credit card income is harder to sneak past the IRS. Cabbies may also be concerned that more fares paid by credit card mean smaller tips. I know my frequent tipping technique involved rounding up the fare to the nearest dollar and then adding on a buck or two depending on the cost of the ride and how highly the driver seemed to value my life, based on his driving. Although I’m not sure exactly how this would change if I paid by credit card.

While individual business owners can choose to accept credit cards or not, cabbies don’t have this freedom. This leaves riders in the position of having to be proactive when they attempt to charge a cab fare. For those who plan to pay with plastic, New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer has some tips:

1. Make sure you swipe your card before the driver pushes the cash button. We recommend doing this during the elongated “cooldown” portion of the ride, when the cabbie slows down to a crawl without stopping so that the meter makes the next fare jump before you get out.
2. Threaten to file a complaint. Take down the taxi driver’s medallion number. Complaints can result in fines and restrictions, and few people actually go through with it. Don’t simply yell at the guy through the Plexiglas; people have been trying that approach with bad chauffeurs since the time of Archimedes, and it’s never worked.
3. If the cabbie says the card machine doesn’t work, try it anyway. If it does, don’t tip him. That $1.60 will turn into the most satisfying half-a-Starbucks you had all day.
4. Befriend your cabbie before all of this becomes an issue. Whatever your cabbie is listening to, ask him to turn it up.
5. If all of this fails and you end up having to get out of the cab and run to the ATM, and then you’re both late and really angry about it, and you want to somehow do some damage to the taxi industry, we suggest you write an article in the tabloid newspaper you work for. That’ll teach ’em.

If all of this seems like too much hassle just to take care of transportation costs with a simple swipe, you can always pay for a subway ride with your Metrocard.

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  • Eitan Dor

    i took a cab last nite and paid with a credit card. i was hoping that the cabbie would give me a hard time so that i could use some of the suggestions that you mention in this post. unfortunately, it was a smooth transaction. it’s actually a pretty easy process; you type in the tip, it calculates the total, you slide the card, and you’re on your way…

  • Dan Ray

    Yes, I was in NYC in late November, and sure enough, the cab I took had a hand-taped “broken” sign covering the credit card swiper.

  • Sc

    just took a taxi in new York and after I swiped my card, the machine turned off. Cabbie explained that the system must be down and even took the time to check some kind of email system on his meter device ( but I didn’t believe any system sent any notification that fast). My guess is he turned off the thing after pulling up to the stop. Ended up paying cash because it was too late at night.

  • Anonymous

    Just took a cab and my friend paid by credit. Cab driver proceeded to argue with us that the fare had not been paid, referring to the receipt that we had requested not showing a total and authorization number. I know the transaction went through and felt I was being scammed. I was not happy.