Taxis and Payment Cards in New York City

by Carol Coye Benson on January 3, 2008

in Card Payments, Taxi Payments, Transit Payments

Carol Coye Benson - Glenbrook Partners

On a New York visit over the last several days, I used four taxis – and paid with my debit card each time. (New York City has recently implemented a regulation requiring all cabs to accept card payments – without minimums or added fees.)

As I paid, I asked each driver whether or not card payments were good for drivers. I got two vehement “no’s”, with bitter remarks about the 5% fee they pay. I got one equally emphatic “yes”, with the added comment that tips were much better on airport runs. And I got one perfect New York “whatever..” with matching shrug.

The cabs were all outfitted with color television screens, running news, weather, and advertisements – with options for the passenger to select maps, taxi info, etc. One of the cabs had a system that had clearly been sponsored in some way by Chase, one by Citi, and two had no apparent sponsorship. (The television in the Chase sponsored cab was running frequent promotions for their lottery-like debit card utilization program: Chase “picks up the tab” for one out of every 500 “qualifying” debit card transactions – an interesting idea.)

Each cab had different systems at the point of payment – one left it to you to enter the tip amount, two gave percentage-based tip options and one a fixed dollar tip option. Confusingly, three of the cabs had two card swipe devices – one under the television screen and one up on the cab wall. One driver (one of the negative ones!) confessed that I was the first person to use it, and wasn’t too sure about where I was supposed to swipe the card!

At the other end of the transportation spectrum, I noticed that, at JFK, the shops at the JetBlue terminal had clearly not gotten the memo about no signatures being required for under $25 purchases. Three different shops made me sign, not even pretending to look at the hurried squiggle I put down (after putting my card away).

But in the plane itself, card payment for food & beverage worked brilliantly. Using a handheld device, the flight attendant’s swipe and the approval took, by my estimate, about ten seconds. My “receipt” was a screen I could look at saying something along the lines of “transaction approved, you will be charged $X”. Intelligently, IMHO, JetBlue is not making this a payment option, but, rather, the only way you can pay – therefore eliminating all of the tedious hassle of cash on planes. Very slick.

{Editor’s note: I recently noticed the same “no cash” policy for purchases on-board on Aloha Airlines! Most of Aloha’s inter-island flights are so short that “faster than cash” actually means something!]

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