(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).
Changes on the Cards
For those of you dithering over whether to take the plastic bag off your credit card reader, your dilemma may soon be over: If TfL have their way, from October, London taxi drivers will be compelled to accept credit card payments.
Over the last few years we’ve been bombarded by propaganda from the card suppliers (hereafter known as The Man). They tell us everyone wants to pay by card. This still isn’t quite the case, but I’ve personally noticed a surge in demand over the last few months – possibly by those who use our competitors and have got used to the idea of paying on credit. I don’t think it’s right we’ve been told how to run our businesses, but only a cave dweller will not have realised that they’re losing out by insisting on cash payment. I would have lost a lot of quality jobs had I not the ability to take cards: Oxford and Reading from Pancras, and a few Heathrows from hotels, where those on the rank sat helpless in their Cash Only cabs.
I started to accept cards nearly five years’ ago when I joined a radio circuit, but I can understand why some people resist. Processing a card can be a little bit fiddly and time-consuming, but it’s still not as stressful as waiting on yellow lines while your passenger queues at a cashpoint. Many drivers are part time and don’t think it’s worth getting involved in button-pushing. You’re relying on technology, and sometimes things go wrong. In the case of credit card processing, you sometimes doubt whether payment’s gone through or not. You have that nagging fear that the plum job you just did to Terminal Five will turn to disaster if the transaction fails when the passenger is half way back to Zurich. I’ve never had that happen, but I still worry about it.
We’re told that from October, drivers will pay a surcharge: less than 3% according to TfL. It’ll be free to customers. I currently pay £1 per transaction as part of my Pay as you Go deal with ComCab. The passenger pays 10%. I feel uncomfortable charging a customer 10%, but I suppose someone has to pay The Man who supplies the technology. There are several different set ups available now, so just find one you’re comfortable with. There are already options available that are free for both drivers and customers. These days we need at least two strings to our bow, and it’s always worth trying a radio circuit or app provider too.
The thing about all this that irks is the fact that we’re being told what to do. Many of us went into this job because we don’t like being told what to do! I don’t know what TfL have against cash. In fact, I’d say it was none of their flaming business how we choose to be paid. I’m sure many visitors to London are caught out when they try to board a bus without an Oyster Card. When planning my holiday in Majorca I didn’t consider myself negligent for not researching the island’s bus payment policy. I assumed cash would be welcome, as I’m sure visitors to London do. I’m sure the public didn’t respond to a survey to say they never want the opportunity to pay cash to board a bus, and that nobody else should either. When London Transport got rid of bus conductors they slowed everything down. It seems like they’re trying to make amends out of desperation.
Cash has traditionally been our bread and butter, and it still gives us an advantage over the card-only apps. But we need to move with the times and embrace technology, whether we want to or not. There probably isn’t anything we can do about the decision to make card acceptance compulsory, so we might as well swallow the pill, however bitter it might taste. We can’t afford to lose money individually, and we can’t afford to turn down work collectively. The ruling could well prove positive, as announcements that all London cabs can process cards – and with no fee – will be gold-plated publicity. We’re seen as dinosaurs by some of our detractors, so let’s prove them wrong and take some work back. If we start now we can get a head start and be up and running when it’s made compulsory. Ultimately, the decision might be for the best.
Copyright: Chris Ackrill, 2015.