Cash is still king for San Francisco cabbies who protest credit card fees

SF Examiner file photoSome San Francisco taxi drivers prefer being paid in cash instead of accepting credit cards

Taxi passengers in The City are complaining about being left out in the cold by drivers who won’t take credit cards, despite a city law mandating the acceptance of plastic.

Drivers have been up in arms about a new policy forcing them to pay 5 percent when they accept credit cards. To protest the policy, some tell passengers that they don’t accept credit cards, or that their card swiper is broken.

“About 40 percent of the time I take a taxi, drivers tell me that they don’t take cards,” said Nick Halsing, a city resident. “It’s the first thing I hear when I get in the car.”

Blake Manship said he frequently encounters the problem, which is particularly troublesome when he’s short on time and cash.

“I’ve had to swing by an ATM and take cash out to get a ride,” Manship said. “It was a huge pain, plus I got hit with a surcharge from my bank.”

As part of a 2010 city ordinance, accepting plastic is mandatory for all registered San Francisco cabdrivers, according to San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose. If a card swipe is broken, drivers should have a backup processing method, Rose said.

He said the agency is aware that drivers refuse credit card payments. Any time passengers experience this situation, they should call 311 and report the taxi number, time and date, he said. Drivers who don’t take cards could be forced to go through re-training or face fines, Rose said.

Michael Patrick, a doorman at the Westin St. Francis in Union Square, said he often gets complaints about this from hotel guests.

“The drivers will go a few blocks and then say they don’t take cards,” Patrick said. “They make the passengers stop by the ATM if they don’t have cash.”

However, cabdrivers queuing recently in front of the St. Francis behaved otherwise. Over two days, nine different drivers polled by The SF Examiner said they took credit cards, despite gripes about the fee.

“I’d rather take the 5 percent hit than lose the fare,” said Mike Singha, a Town Taxi driver.

A Royal Taxi driver readily accepted a reporter’s credit card for an $8 ride.

Although few drivers admit to refusing credit cards, cabbies said they understand why it happens.

Earlier this year, the SFMTA approved a measure that let cab companies charge drivers a 5 percent card fee per fare. The move was designed to help out companies paying high monthly fees for credit card usage. Drivers, however, said the fee unfairly targets working-class individuals who already struggle to make a living in San Francisco.

“Drivers are not refusing credit cards,” said John Han, a taxi driver. “They’re refusing the unfair cost that comes with taking credit cards.”

While that stance may be appreciated among drivers, it doesn’t go over too well with passengers.

“I got kicked out a cab just the other day on Market Street because I didn’t have cash,” said Elizabeth Baksi. “That was not fun.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Cashing out

City cabs are required to accept credit cards, but many often request cash from customers due to the fees they must pay on transactions as well as the wait for reimbursement.

1,500 Taxis in San Francisco
5,000 Taxi drivers in San Francisco
5% Fee that drivers absorb when they accept credit card payments
3–10% Credit card fee range in other American cities
30–35% Trips paid for with credit cards in Yellow Cab taxis
2.5–3.2% Increase in tips when passengers paid with cards in Yellow Cab and DeSoto taxis

Source: SFMTA, Nelson Nygaard consulting firm

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