taxi in washington, DC (Tupungato/

Payment apps drive city’s taxi modernization

Washington, D.C., taxis soon will be getting a digital facelift.  By Aug. 31, the more than 8,000 taxis in the district will be switching to digital meters provided by Square, the company that makes monetary transactions possible through mobile devices.

“The hardwired meter that has been around for years is archaic technology,” said Neville Waters, a spokesperson for the Department of For-Hire Vehicles. “In order for us to be able to continue our efforts to modernize the industry we really need to move to a digital platform, and Square is helping to facilitate that transition.”

With the Square-based system, drivers will download an approved metering app that works with mobile and tablet devices and lets riders swipe, dip or tap their payment.

Riders will be able to pay with cash, credit and debit cards or, in future iterations, through ride hailing apps (different than the app used by the driver). The city plans to offer multiple ride hailing apps that will work with the system, Waters said, including DC Taxi, a recently released application for hailing taxis in the city. These apps will connect to the payment system through APIs.

Waters said a digital system will also allow taxis to provide discounts or bonus points (“every sixth ride is free,” for example) to its riders. Square will take over the role of credit card processing, which is currently done by multiple companies, Waters said.

One of the biggest benefits to the city, though, will be access to the payment service’s real-time ridership data. DFHV will now have data on vehicles’ locations, and on where and when demand is heaviest.

“We are looking forward to the utility of those tools to be able to help us in policy making, pilot programs, whether there are regulatory issues that need to be addressed,” Waters said. “I think from our standpoint that is the most exciting aspect.”

Some of this data will be provided to the public, in anonymized form, through the city’s open data portal and could be used by independent developers to create even more apps for the city’s transportation services.

“I can’t even begin to predict a year or even 18 months from now what apps may be under consideration for authorization," Waters said, "but I know there are smart people out there that are very interested in figuring out” how to improve the district taxi experience.

These changes come at a time when the overall fare collection for district taxis has been slipping. Ridership is estimated to have dropped by about 13 percent between 2015 and 2016. And outside groups have been calling on DFHV to change its regulations to allow the industry to better compete in the evolving transportation ecosystem.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.


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