Plastic Money

In September a new polymer £5 note will be issued.  I wonder if TfL have anything to do with this?  After all, they’re insisting we accept plastic.  If the bank note turns up with a picture of Boris on it we’ll know for sure.

Of course, plastic money by way of credit cards is the real talking point here.  Many of us broadly accepted mandatory credit card acceptance when it was first flagged up.  We have to accept credit cards in order to compete; and while we didn’t like being told how to run our businesses, it didn’t seem worth opposing the proposal.   We assumed we’d be given clear, sensible, guidance, and time to plan things.  But TfL were making it up as they went along and the whole shebang was rushed through before the interested parties got their heads around it all.  As soon as they secured our acceptance, they brought in laws that were due to start well before we were ready; some of them in April.  It’s now April, and those of us affected by the rulings still aren’t sure what’s happening.

At first we were told we could charge 3% for processing a card.  That seemed reasonable as I believe the 10% I was forced to charge before April was too much (it used to be 12.5%).  But we could see we were going to be at the mercy of the companies who supply the equipment, and that we’d probably break even at best.  A 20p meter flag fall rise wouldn’t go far should the suppliers charge us more than 3%.  We were then told we could make zero charge, so we’d definitely lose out.  Who are TfL doing this for?  If the 20p meter flag fall rise was brought in purely to help us, it’s unfair to customers who prefer to pay by cash the old-fashioned way.

Another ruling rushed through said we needed to have the card reader installed within the passenger compartment by October.  My reader sits proudly by my side, away from grubby fingers.  It works perfectly well, so why should it be moved?  This is going to be a lot of work for the radio circuits, and a lot of inconvenience for its drivers.  Spare a thought too for those drivers who removed their printers when they were no longer deemed necessary.  Those drivers are going to have to arrange to have them re-installed.  We don’t have to have card readers connected to the meter, but that rule is likely to come in next year.  That will be more inconvenience for many drivers.

I still find it ridiculous you can’t buy a bus ticket with cash, and I don’t see why we should be used as another disruptive experiment in “modernisation.”  Banks don’t process card payments for free, so someone has to pay the inevitable fee.  If someone has to pay, it should be the customer.  I can’t help thinking we’ve been railroaded into this one.  Left to our own devices, most of us would decide it’s time to accept plastic eventually.  But the rulings are disruptive for those of us who already accept plastic.

As consumers, we’ve happily allowed ourselves to become part of a credit-based society.   Credit card payment started as a convenience if you had no cash on you.  Employers started to pay their staff through bank accounts and credit card use grew.  We knew we’d be charged handsomely should we use a card to pay for theatre or travel tickets, though that’s offset by having some protection should things go wrong.  Sometimes we pay through the nose for the insurance element.  We’re now in a society where credit card machines sit invitingly by the tills in coffee shops.   Personally, I’d be embarrassed about paying for a small item on a card.  Last summer I cringed when a friend of mine paid for half a cider in a Berkhamsted pub, though the bar staff seemed to consider it normal.  People like us who are still paid in cash are looked upon with suspicion, as if we’re illegal immigrants doing something underhand.

Maybe it’ll all settle down after October when things are implemented fully.  Perhaps the banks will compete with each other and we won’t lose out too much.  The trade press are already carrying adverts in which card equipment suppliers are competing for our custom.  It’s likely we’ll be able to pay lower fees once things get established.  It might all turn out all right, as when our customers know that all taxis accept cards and that there are no costs for doing so, it should make us more attractive.

All this is an inconvenience for those of us who already accept plastic, and it’s probably frightening for those drivers who currently only accept cash.  In a year’s time, though, we’ll probably have forgotten the way it was all rushed in, and we might welcome the extra string to our bow.

Copyright: Chris Ackrill, April 2016.

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