Cambridge Finally Requiring Its Cabs to Take Credit Cards

What is this, 2007?


Illustration by C.J. Burton for “Fare and Square”

No, this isn’t a Throwback Thursday. As of April 1, 2015, the Cambridge License Commission announced Wednesday that all Cambridge taxi cabs must be able to process credit cards.

“Wait,” you’re saying right about now. “They didn’t already?”

Nope, they didn’t. This move is long overdue at a time when the cab industry faces lethal competition from companies like Uber who attract users with their convenient payment method. And it’s especially overdue from a city that has consistently questioned Uber’s presence in its borders, all while still resisting the kind of 21st century convenience that makes the company such an attractive alternative. “Convenience” seems to be the buzzword behind this Cambridge decision.

“The new regulations that went into effect today will not only increase customer convenience, but also ensure that the taxi industry remains a competitive and convenient transportation option,” says Andrea Jackson, Chair of the Cambridge License Commission, in a press release.

One reason we know she’s telling the truth is that the city of Boston already requires their cabs to accept credit cards, and after requiring the machines—back in 2009, mind you—the city saw ridership increase. Why? Probably because potential riders who don’t carry cash didn’t have to plan an ATM trip before hailing a cab home.

As it is now, Cambridge cabs have the option of installing credit card readers, and many do. But by leaving the decision up to individual companies, the city allows for too much inconsistency. If riders can’t hail a cab confident that it will take a credit card, they’re going to seek another option altogether.

Even when Boston began requiring credit cards, there were problems. The city sees a huge number of complaints from riders who say drivers won’t accept the card, anyway. This, too, tends to send a lot of users into the open arms of Uber, where seamless mobile payment means the rider doesn’t even have to swipe a card to complete payment on a ride, let alone fight with the driver over the “broken” card machine.

The Cambridge License Commission has picked big, headline-grabbing fights with Uber over the years. But there’s a reason their attempts to shut the company down have met with such intense backlash from its diehard fans. People want convenience and consistency in their cab experience. Accepting credit cards is a very small step in the direction of offering users some of that.