Kathleen Horan, Reporter, WNYC News
Kathleen Horan is a staff reporter for New York Public Radio, covering the neighborhood beat. She also reports 'Reset', an ongoing series documenting police-community relations in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Since it debuted two years ago, Taxi TV hasn’t gotten great reviews. But the city is promising more choices that it hopes will boost its popularity this fall.
The city’s municipal television station, NYC Media, will create a second channel with programming that includes segments on the arts, food, animals and ways to enjoy NY "on the cheap." It is scheduled to debut in October.
"I picture myself as the template for going into that cab and saying, 'Oh, this is fun, this is cool … I want to go to this Bangladeshi restaurant. I want to see this free concert in Bryant Park,'" said Diane Petzke, general manager at NYC Media.
She said the new channel will offer more hyper-local content that real New Yorkers will enjoy. Currently the single channel shows news briefs and weather updates, as well as lifestyle programming that’s provided by WABC-TV and NBC TV — in between the commercials.
The advertisements pay for the programming, but neither of the two vendors who operate the screens, Creative Mobile Technologies or Verifone Technology Systems, would say how much revenue they make selling ad time in the back of cabs.
Regardless, most passengers say, it’s not the amount of the commercials or the current content that is at the heart of the matter — they’d rather do without the TVs altogether.
In a survey conducted by the city this year, more than 31 percent of customers said they found the TVs the second most annoying thing about riding in a taxi, after the price.
"I just don’t think I have to be that connected all the time," taxi passenger Harry Shroder of Manhattan said. He turns off Taxi TV as quickly as he can. "I rather enjoy a moment of relaxation, even if it's in a cab which is not that relaxing. I would prefer to have it off."
Frank Trolly who has been driving a cab in the city for the last five decades agrees. He doesn’t think the second channel will be much of a hit because most people are more interested in their own gadgets.
"Either they’re on a cell phone, and that’s interrupting them, and they’re saying 'can you shut that off.'"
(Photo: Cab driver Frank Trolly/Kathleen Horan for WNYC)
The Taxi and Limousine Commission says according to their data, people switch off the screens about 22 percent of the time.
TLC Commissioner David Yassky said he understands, "I've seen some emails along the lines of the, 'TV is annoying and intrusive and I think you should get rid of it.'"
But he adds this is the first step towards improving the service. He said the two vendors who operate the TVs have agreed to pay for focus groups in their new contract with the city to see what passengers like and don’t like in future versions of Taxi TV.
Alan Stern, who takes cabs frequently for his job in real estate, welcomed another Taxi TV channel.
"I think it’s good to have another choice because right now you just have the same news like every 10 minutes, so it would be good to have an added feature for yourself for sure. Some of those cab rides can be long and costly — at least you’re getting something for your money."
And, if you still don't like it, Yassky said you’ll soon be able to mute the introduction on TV screens as well.
View a sample of the programming that will be offered on the second channel below.