- Do you accept credit cards? (Photo: flickr/alexbarth)
The District's taxicabs are under a lot of scrutiny these days. One highly publicized comment derides them as "third-world" service, cited yesterday on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. People point to our D.C. cabs as stone age, backwards, and unprofessional. The emotion borders on disgust at times, surprisingly visceral, and has helped propel a government overhaul of the industry. Last month, Mayor Vince Gray, Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells, and D.C. Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton stood together to announce a major initiative in which all taxis will have credit card readers, GPS tracking, and other modern devices installed within the next year. Yet annoyance at our cabs' purported backwardness has amplified in recent weeks, as people slam the D.C. taxi in their praise of new luxury car service Uber, which comes equipped with smartphone-hailing convenience, credit card readers, and a built-in tip.
And then there's that sense of class, which so many Uber fans emphasize when talking about their fondness for the service. They opt for a professional, smooth ride, and scoff at the idea that they can find that in the District's taxicabs. But D.C. has more than 8,000 cab drivers. Does the overwhelming narrative of terrible taxis capture what's been happening in D.C. throughout the last half decade? Certainly the District's cab service has a long way to go, but do people also miss the advancements taking place?
"Taxi drivers are not the Luddites painted in the press," said Matt Carrington, Taxi Magic's director of communications. "We follow this market very closely. That's not our experience at all."
Like Uber, Taxi Magic is focused on expanding the technology options of our casual cab rides but this company, founded in 2007 in Alexandria, Virginia, has sought to accomplish the mission by working with traditional taxicab fleets rather than offering an entirely new transportation option. People can download the Taxi Magic app and call a cab using their smartphones. The company also helps fleets install credit card readers. Taxi Magic works with seven fleets in the D.C. metro region — D.C. Yellow Cab, Arlington Red Top, Barwood Taxi, Alexandria Yellow Cab, Fairfax Yellow/Red Top, Loudoun Yellow Cab, and Red Top Sedan Service. The company works with close to 30,000 taxis around the country, Carrington told me, in 45 cities and with 75 fleets total. Locally, Taxi Magic records "a few thousand" rides a day from people using the service, and they charge fleets a negotiated price based on the number of rides that they provide.