David Adamson asks whether card readers for the city’s black cabs should be mandatory

If you’ve ever stood in a Texaco forecourt, jabbing away at a cash machine in the driving rain - and been charged £1.99 for the privilege -  then you’ve probably wished at some point that black cabs were required to have card readers.

As it stands they’re not, and something that forms the backbone of many a night out in the city remains essentially the same as it was twenty years ago.

You could, of course, just get an Uber. But black cabs are as much a part of British city social life as chasing the sun round a beer garden, and it baffles plenty of people this age-old transport system hasn’t moved with the times.

I ask them beforehand how they’d like to pay but I don’t mind. Card or cash, it’s all the same to me

We put to our trusty and loyal readers the question ‘Should all black cabs be required to have card readers?’, and the responses ranged from the efficient - “Yes” - to the incredulous - “Of course! Goes without saying!”, “Yep. It’s 2023”, “Yes, why on earth not?”

Some also spoke to the enhanced safety of a trip being essentially tracked because of the card transaction, “Yep. Not only that I’d make it mandatory to pay by card for security reasons, that way they can trace who was in the car and when.”

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Black cabs queueing outside Piccadilly Station Image: Confidentials

However it takes two to taxi, and while passengers might rightly expect a service that’s as much in the modern day as their iPhones are, black cab drivers still occasionally end up being the ones losing out.

Javid, who has been driving a black cab in the city for nearly 30 years, says that while he does keep a card reader it’s no guarantee that when he reaches the destination he actually gets paid.

“Every fare I have now people pay by card, but it’s not made my job easier,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll take on a job and they’ll say they’ll pay on card, so I drive them to wherever they want to go. Then at the end of the journey their card is declined. Sometimes they’ll say their PIN number is wrong, or that my machine is faulty. But they just don't want to pay the money.  

“You can get to the end of a journey and they say ‘I’ve got no money’. If it’s cash, you can pay upfront and I know I’ll get paid for it. If people say ‘I’ll pay by card’ I’m then thinking, ‘Are they an honest person? Will they actually pay?’. Every day one and two passengers I’ve driven will either say ‘I’ve got no money’ or do a runner. Every day that happens.”

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A black cab outside the Midland Hotel Image: Confidentials

Meanwhile for Naveed, now in his twelfth year driving a black cab in the city, having a card reader just means more opportunity to get trade in what can already be an uncertain and competitive business.

“I’ve had a card reader for about eight years now,” he said. “Half of all my fares pay on card. I ask them beforehand how they’d like to pay but I don’t mind. Card or cash, it’s all the same to me.

“Sometimes you’ll have people jump in the taxi and not tell you they’ve got no money, and sometimes that’s on purpose, but most of the time it’s just working people, or business types going somewhere. I don’t have many problems. I’d be quite happy with drivers having to have card readers, it’s good for trade and you get extra business from it. It’s good to have.”

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Taxis queue outside Piccadilly Station Image: Confidentials

One exception to this rule, as Manchester City Council explained, is for black cabs operating at the airport, which seems sensible seeing as you’re even less likely to have £20 in cash when you’ve just returned from two weeks in Malaga.

An MCC spokesperson said: "It is not obligatory for black cabs licensed in Manchester to provide card readers for fares. However, it is a separate condition for the access to the airport permit for licenced black cabs which want to ply their trade to airport customers."

But should the only passengers guaranteed to be able to pay by card be the ones in flip flops and t-shirt tans? For a city that’s in the midst of a tourism boom things should syrely change.

Our editor, Jonathan Schofield, recently and in the middle of the day went to the rank on Market Street to take a black cab to Heaton Park. He was on business, in a rush and had no cash. The first three cabs all declined to take card payments, the third said his reader was broken. The fourth cabbie, who also had an airport taxi-licence, came to the rescue. 

It is clear that despite the calm words from our cabbies their truth is not the truth for all cabbies and many will only take cash. They may even have card readers but they choose not to use them. We can only surmise what reasons this cash-only economy might serve. Yet the tactic is unacceptable especially late on weekend nights and particularly for vulnerable people desperate to get home. It's also the best recruitment promotion for Uber. Maybe Uber are sneaking into black cabs and breaking card readers. 

The council also told us it is 'in discussion with the taxi trade associations about the requirement for black cabs to have card payment facilities in their vehicles. Following further conversations with the industry the council would look to take a paper to the Licensing Committee to consider.'

This action needs to take place sooner rather than later. 

Credit for header photo: the blowup on Unsplash   

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