Parking authority renews controversial contract for new meters, GPS system

Over the objections of some taxi owners, the Philadelphia Parking Authority has voted to renew a controversial contract for putting new GPS and credit-card systems in the city’s cabs.

The parking authority, which regulates taxis in Philadelphia, five years ago signed a $4 million deal with VeriFone Transportation Systems to install a new metering, GPS, dispatching and credit-card payment system in the city’s cabs.

The credit-card system worked, but drivers say the GPS is faulty, so they still use their own radio dispatching, while paying $18 a month for the VTS system.

The authority withheld $850,000 in payments to VTS because of the problems, but officials have been planning to amend the contract so that the company gets its money in return for installing new, state-of-the-art systems in city taxis.

Several cab owners showed up at the authority’s Monday board meeting, urging members not to adopt the amendment. Attorney Tom Leonard said the contract shouldn’t be renewed without going through a new competitive bidding process.

Parking authority general counsel Dennis Weldon said the contract originally was awarded after a competitive process, and it’s legal for the authority to amend it now.

He said riders and drivers will be better served by the new meters, GPS systems and credit-card payment devices VTS will install.

“There (will be) a panic button under the seat that a driver can hit to summon police in the event of an emergency,” Weldon said. “Because the GPS will be better, we’ll be able to know where that driver is. If you lose something in a cab, we’ll be able to track it.”

Weldon said the new system will print better receipts. Back-seat screens will generate advertising revenue drivers will share in, he added.

After the meeting, Yellow Cab vice president Ed Burkhardt said drivers resent having to deal with VTS.

“The drivers are the ones ultimately paying the expenses for everyone,” Burkhardt said. “It should be up to them what they do or don’t want to do.”

Weldon said a year after the new equipment is installed, drivers can choose another vendor for payment and GPS technology if they wish, provided it meets the authority’s standards.

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