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District cab drivers have had 120 days and two deadline extensions to retrofit their cabs with electronic payment readers. The D.C. Taxicab Commission is saying enough is enough, and come Oct. 1, any cab caught without a credit card reader will be towed.

But about 200 cab drivers gathered Wednesday in Freedom Plaza to rally against the nearing deadline, claiming to be justified in their protest: The whole installation process, the drivers alleged, has been a total mess.

The drivers rattled off a litany of issues they’ve faced trying to comply with the new regulations. Chief among them: Most of the payment service provider companies are facing a backlog of orders for credit card readers, and the ones that do have machines in stock are jacking up the prices.

The commission approved eight PSP companies that drivers can choose from, and the prices are not regulated.

“Come Monday, if they don’t have a credit card reader, they’re out of work,” said Aurora Vasquez, a lawyer who works with D.C. Drivers United for Equal Rights and helped organize the rally along with the Excluded Workers Project, which just released a report detailing all the installation issues.

Cab driver Temegegen Gebeyehu said his contract with one company was canceled, and now the company with the best price he wants to use won’t be able install his credit card reader until Oct. 20, putting him out of work for three weeks.

A few other drivers said they have their machines installed, but the PSPs haven’t given them the money for payments already made with their credit card readers. Neville Waters, the spokesman for the Taxicab Commission, says he hasn’t heard about this issue, but would look into it.

At the rally, drivers said they were in favor of the credit card readers, but didn’t think the process should be rushed. They held signs directed at Cab Commission Chair Ron Linton, saying “Ron Linton: Don’t tow my cab. Fix the backlog. Extend the deadline.”

“We need extended time,” they chanted.

Waters, who wasn’t at the rally, says the protestors likely represent a small portion of drivers who had troubles and by Oct. 1, about 5,000 cabs will have the electronic readers installed. (There are currently 7,000 registered cabs, though may of them may be retiring or switching to sedans, opting not to get a reader installed.)

“No more extensions are being granted,” Waters says. “It’s a little frustrating because this has been in effect since June.”

Photo by Perry Stein