It has been a while since the credit and debit card mandate was approved by Transport for London. Although this mandate still has serious issues that need addressing, in the main it has been a positive for the licensed London taxi industry.
In today's world cash is no longer king, and although both credit and debit card are not "coin of the realm," there may at some point in the future be a change in legislation to facilitate cards becoming legal tender, carrying cash is becoming a thing of the past.
The cab order surrounding credit card systems is somewhat confusing, it requires all taxis to carry a working credit card system in the rear of the vehicle, with any system failure rendering the vehicle "unfit" and therefore technically required to be removed from service. This however is not only unreasonable but also unworkable for several reasons.
At what point does a credit card system be deemed as failing, is it at the point that a driver is unable to log on? Or is it at the point that there is a failure when use is attempted? Is the driver liable for a system failure? Is the system deemed inoperable if there is network failure? Does the vehicle have to be removed from service if the credit card provider suffers system failure at their end? What happens if a driver rents a vehicle and changes vehicle frequently, or suffers a breakdown and is using a replacement vehicle, does the driver have to sign up to every system available on the market? None of these questions are answerable as the cab order is highly ambiguous and therefore flawed. What is widely known is that no driver can be prevented from using their own hand-held system as a back-up in the front of the vehicle. Transport for London are fully aware that no driver can be sanctioned for this, it is believed that any sanction would be deemed illegal were it to end up in court.
Many drivers carry a hand-held back-up system, however, depending on which data provider you use, again system failure can occur because of network outages. Four major hotspots on o2 are Fenchurch Street, Cheapside by New Change, Tooley Street around London Bridge and Waterloo Station.
All credit card providers require piggy-backing on a data network, therefore unlike a shop where you are static and pretty much guaranteed a signal, in a vehicle its an odds-on certainty that you will suffer a signal dropout at some point.
Let's be clear about this, Transport for London were 100% right in bringing in a mandatory credit card system, however it should have been part of the condition of the taxi driver licence rather than condition of fitness for the vehicle. This could have easily been demonstrated upon licence renewal by simply forwarding either the paper or electronic contact which had been signed by any given driver showing that they had a system available for use, or a bank statement showing any given credit card companies deposits into an account as proof. This in turn would have allowed drivers a greater choice of system allowing them to obtain the best deal and negated the requirement for a system to be placed in the back of the vehicle, tjus improving both driver and passenger safety, after all no driver wants to put themselves at risk after leaving the cab cockpit to go into the back of the vehicle.
Since the cab order regarding credit and debit cards came into place, in the main the vast majority of drivers have responded positively, taking any and every card no matter how big or small the fare is. This in turn has been received positively by the public, in fact some members of the public have returned to using taxis because of this move. There are however a small minority of taxi drivers who are either refusing to take cards, or making life as difficult as possible for people to use cards. The feedback attached to this course of action, no matter how minimal starts a ripple in the pond of social media, which ultimately becomes a tidal wave of vitriol against the taxi industry.
A story was recently recounted on social media by a lady who when attempting to pay for her cab after being picked up at Liverpool Street was told upon arrival near her destination that the cars machine wasn't working. The fare had already gone more than usual because of the road closures in the City surrounding the visit from the Commonwealth heads of state. This resulted in an argument, eventually the driver accepted the cars payment when his machine "miraculously" started working again. As a result of his actions the driver now faces the prospect of having to answer to Transport for London, and rightly so. This sort of behaviour is unacceptable at every level.
If there is a genuine system failure the process is simple, let them know before you undertake your journey so as to give them the option of taking another taxi. If there is an unknown failure then the customer will find this out when the card is being processed, a failure may be down to the passengers card failing or a card system failure, neither the driver nor passenger may necessarily know why it has failed. What a driver has to be mindful of is that it is the customers responsibility to ensure payment if there is a card failure of any kind. Payment can be made in many ways if there is a failure, a simple bank transfer or paypal payment should suffice if no ATMs are available for use. Ultimately a genuine failure should not obstruct payment, as said earlier, many drivers carry a second system to facilitate card payments, the industry must try and make life as easy as possible for the customer.
Those who arbitarily refuse card payments by falsely claiming that their card system isn't working, albeit a small minority, have become an utter blight on the industry, it is a counter-productive and unnecessary act that should be squashed like an irritating fly. The industry is fighting for survival on many levels and to perpetuate that particular act of stupidity just drives another nail into the industry's coffin.
The taxi industry is a service industry, therefore bad service gets remembered, it can stain an entire industry very easily. If a driver doesn't wish to take card then that is absolutely fine, simply find another profession which doesn't require you to take card... shape up or ship out.
The taxi trade must accept that it has a responsibility to its customers, without them it is dead in the water.