- New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission board voted on Thursday to start a pilot program to test new payment technology that could replace the often obtrusive screens.
Since the commission said that it would consider retiring the Taxi TV, many New Yorkers have voiced their support for the idea on social media and in local news reports.
Before the vote on Thursday, one board member, Nora C. Marino, noted the anti-screen fervor. “I thought I was the only one who didn’t like Taxi TV,” Ms. Marino said.
The taxi commission said riders often complained about the monitors’ blaring noise, repetitive programming and uncooperative power buttons. Officials even suggested that frustration over the screens might have pushed riders to abandon the city’s approximately 13,500 yellow cabs for Uber and other car services.
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The board agreed to scale back the trial to 1,000 vehicles after critics said the original plan to try new technology in 4,000 cabs was too large and would be tantamount to a policy change, not a pilot program.
One concern was the accuracy of new taxi meters, which would rely on GPS rather than on the number of wheel rotations, as current meters do. Another concern was how readily the new devices could be used by people who are blind or have limited vision.
Rather than delay the pilot program, the commission’s chairwoman, Meera Joshi, suggested the reduction in the number of participating taxis.
The commission can choose up to four companies to participate, and each one can install its new payment technology in up to 250 taxis. Instead of using the screens, drivers might, for instance, hand passengers a smartphone or tablet with a credit card reader to collect the fare.
The pilot program could last up to a year; then the commission could adopt formal rules to discontinue the Taxi TV. The loop of advertisements, entertainment clips and public service announcements has annoyed riders since the consoles began to widely appear in taxis in 2007. A survey in 2011 found that passengers said the screens were the second worst part of a taxi ride, behind only the high fare.
The expected switch to GPS to record the distance traveled and calculate fares will be one of the most closely watched aspects of the pilot program.
Jeffrey Garber, a technology adviser for the taxi commission, said officials would drive test runs across the city using both the traditional meter and the new GPS-based one to make sure they tally the same fares.
The new equipment must comply with a city law passed in 2012 that requires taxis to provide audio fare updates during the trip and to allow visually impaired passengers to pay without assistance, Ms. Joshi said. The commission will work with advocates to review the new products to make sure they comply, she said.
The Taxi TV has allowed visually impaired riders to pay fares on their own, said Lester Marks, the director of government affairs at Lighthouse Guild, an advocacy group for the visually impaired.
“The concern is if we have a smartphone or tablet in the front driver compartment,” he said, “somebody sitting in the back with the partition wouldn’t be able to hear it.”