Backscreen TV's will be taken out of 1,000 yellow cabs over the next year in a pilot program approved unanimously by the Taxi and Limousine Commission board Thursday, following complaints by passengers and drivers.
The taxis will use a GPS-based digital meter to calculate fares. Four companies will take part, and be limited to 250 cabs each. Riders could end up paying with a smartphone or tablet inside a taxi, which will take credit cards and have the features of the current software in cabs. There are almost 13,600 taxis total on city streets.
"I thought I was the only person who didn't like Taxi TV," admitted TLC board member Nora Marino. "I think it's a very excellent pilot program."
The agency had initially proposed nixing the screens in 4,000 taxis, which a spokesman for Creative Mobile Technologies said was a change in policy -- not a pilot program. Rule changes require a more rigorous process that includes public testimony.
"It's pretty shocking, past pilots had 50 cars," said Michael Woloz of Creative Mobile Technologies, which provides televisions in half of yellow cabs, and some green taxis. "Pilots are supposed to be lower in volume, supposed to be truly experimental."
The television screens were introduced in cabs in 2007, and gave passengers a way to pay for fares with debit and credit cards.
Woloz said that many passengers do enjoy watching Taxi TV, and that the city gets up to $6 million in free public service advertisements a year. They include Vision Zero ads that target reckless driving. Ad revenue that runs in the cab television goes to vendors and medallion owners.
"There's no question that they provide a real value to the riding public," said TlC spokesman Allan Fromberg. "But I think everybody would agree that actively exploring what's new and exciting on the tech front is something we owe to the public."
"The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a union that represents both cab and Uber drivers, was jubilant following the vote.
"From the get-go, Taxi TV was despised by drivers and passengers alike," said William Lindauer, a retired cab driver who works as an organizer for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. "To ignore this outcry for so many years is shameful. Enlightenment seems to come to the TLC at a speed slightly greater than that of evolution."
Passengers have complained to the TLC about the noise of the television, repetitive content, and buttons that don't work.
"The TLC indicates that all passengers are entitled to a quiet ride," said one rider in a complaint filed with the TLC. "This includes passengers not being FORCED to watch news flashing across the TV screen in front of them. I am sick and tired of so many taxi TVs NOT having the ability to be turned off. The TLC purposefully puts the Mute and On/Off buttons way down in the corner of the screen so it is often very hard to activate it. In this taxi, I could NOT turn off the TV screen. Very irritating. There is way too much noise now inside taxis...the TVs, the card payment recording that is so loud...it is just too much noise!"
Another griped that the televisions automatically come on when a ride start. "It is extremely irritating and many times there is NO WAY to turn it off," wrote another passenger to the TLC. "The OFF button is way way down in the very corner of the screen where it is VERY difficult to turn it off. Many time[s] the button does NOT work. The TLC MUST know this but does not care because they want to force people to listen, all for ad revenue. NYCers are forced to hear enough noise. We can't have peace and quiet inside a taxi?"