They’re too loud, they play Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” on loop, and their mute buttons are maddeningly unresponsive. And now, finally, New York City’s Taxi TVs might be going dark.
Just seven years after installing television monitors in the back of all city taxi cabs, New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission is proposing a way to silence the widely hated machines. In a pilot program voted into action earlier this month, the commission is investigating a way to replace the monitors with newer, less obnoxious technology.
Frequent commuters are thrilled with the news. But the program also hints at the taxi industry’s pressure to conform to competition from ride-hail apps like Uber.
“The TLC regularly receives complaints from passengers and drivers about the Taxi TV, the responsiveness of its screen, the noise it generates, and the repetitive media content it plays,” the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s proposal reads. “Both drivers and passengers routinely report to the TLC that they find the default settings and volume on the Taxi TV distracting and that the ‘mute’ and ‘off’ buttons on the Taxi TV often do not work.”
“Off off off off off can’t stand it,” New York resident Helen Holmes told The Daily Beast of her Taxi TV preferences.
Taxi-goer Kate Fustich also keeps the monitor on mute. “I turn it off instantly as a power move to give me New Yorker cred,” she said.
Holmes and Fustich are hardly alone. According to a 2011 survey by the TLC, 31 percent of passengers rated “annoying” Taxi TVs as the worst part of the ride, a complaint beat only by “cabs are too expensive,” which garnered 36.8 percent of the vote.
The TLC’s proposal also references the growing competition from for-hire vehicle companies like Uber and Lyft, the former of which now has more cars on New York City streets than the TLC has yellow taxis.
“Passengers are increasingly choosing for-hire transportation options that do not have Taxi TVs in the back seat, such as black cars or liveries,” the TLC writes.
The pilot program affects fewer than a quarter of the TLC’s approximately 13,500 taxis, and allows drivers to test new payment ride-tracking methods on smartphones and tablets, a system similar to Uber’s app-based methods.
Another TLC proposal approved Thursday addresses weakness in the taxi industry’s battle with ride-hail apps. The TLC passed a new leasing agreement between cab drivers and owners, increasing flexibility in drivers’ hours. Previously, New York City taxicabs were leased on 12-hour shifts, a constraint Uber drivers do not share. This flexible scheduling is a powerful recruiting tool for Uber, which has grown steadily in ranks while boasting that its drivers make their own hours. The TLC, meanwhile, is experiencing a driver shortage.
The TLC’s most obvious move toward an Uber model, however, is its adaptation of a smartphone app. Arro, the TLC’s Uber-style app, allows riders to hail a yellow cab using a real-time map of available cars in the city. Unlike Uber, Arro doesn’t charge users a surge price during busy hours.
It’s not a perfect system. Arro is only available in cabs with media terminals from Creative Mobile Technologies. The app might be made available in all cabs if the TLC also partners with Verifone, the other major company that provides taxi technology.
But New York’s Taxi TVs are manufactured exclusively by Creative Mobile Technologies and Verifone. And in its proposed pilot program to eliminate Taxi TVs, the TLC will begin removing these companies’ products from their cars.