Credit card readers are ubiquitous —though not always operational— in cabs throughout New York and Boston (other cities as well, I’m sure). They’ve received mixed reviews from fares and drivers alike: the machines are great—when they work, it’s great that I can pay with my card—but sometimes drivers drive away when I ask, it’s such a simple solution—but the interface is terrible. On the whole, the move to mandate these card readers is on behalf of riders, it makes it easier for us to pay if we don’t have to worry about having cash on hand which is important in an increasingly plastic-based world. There aren’t many redeeming qualities for the drivers themselves, besides a nominal increase in the amount of fares they may receive on a given night, which is marginal at best.
My driver, an older Asian man I’ll call Dave, spoke in viscous but forceful English, but gathered his thoughts deliberately, being careful not to say something he didn’t mean as a non-native linguist. He spoke in bursts of insightful commentary, like a particularly satisfying point in a Presidential debate or a Donald Trump stump speech. My first question I knew the answer to: “What percentage do the credit card readers take off the fare?” 6% is the accepted cut; my driver proffered 10%. I pressed him slightly as I knew that his estimation was too high. “10%, 6% to the card company and 4% in fees,” he said referring to the credit card companies and Boston city operating fees, respectively.
After a conciliatory comment, Dave offered another fact that I had never considered, “the machines cost $1000.” I quite literally never even considered this scenario, I just assumed that the City of Boston’s hackney division would be paying for something they mandated but apparently the drivers themselves are paying for the machines. A typical driver makes around $30k, usually a little less (the excellent piece on the NYC Taxi advocate Bhairavi Desai from the New Yorker goes into more detail on the salaries, subscription required) which is even lower than it sounds relative to cost-of-living as taxis typically operate in urban areas where simply living requires a daily account balance check.
Dave sounded defeated by the time we came to my block. I had naively asked if there was any energy to challenge the percentage collected by the credit card companies, he kind-heartedly laughed and released a definitive “no”. He understood why people wanted to pay with cards, “People don’t have jobs, I understand they don’t have cash.” He continued, “but you know, it hurts us too because we lose money. Even people with good jobs pay with cards!”
I thanked Dave and paid my fare of $8.90 with a $10 bill and said sorry I couldn’t give him a better tip, it was all the cash I had. “At least you didn’t pay with a card!” he laughed, and I gathered my things and shut the door.
If you have the cash, use it.