NYC To Get Rid of Some Taxi TV's

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Taxi TV (photo by Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

(New York, NY -- Kathleen Horan, WNYC) New York City is planning to offer passengers a quieter ride by taking the TVs out of the backs of some yellow taxis.

"What we're trying here is a credit card screen that won't have advertising or entertainment content on that”, said Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky at a meeting of the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

New Yorkers reaction has been mixed to the TV’s that can blare in the backseats but Yassky defends the current system—adding that some passengers do enjoy the entertainment content.

The TLC approved a pilot program on Thursday to remove the TV screens from the back of 30 cabs and replace them with iPads or other tablets.

The mobile payment company called SQUARE will equip these cabs with interactive touch screens. On them, passengers can to pay for their ride and opt to have a receipt emailed or texted to them. If the pilot program is approved, the new screens could appear in many more cabs by early next year. The internet and other functions wouldn’t be available right away.

Customers pay with nearly half of their trips by credit card, according to the TLC and up until now (since 2008) only 2 companies, Creative Mobile Technology or CMT and VeriFone have been authorized to provide credit card readers and GPS systems as well as the TV’s in cabs.

One of the current providers, Jesse Davis, President of CMT, was not pleased after the Commission voted to approve the pilot. He said the new gizmos are not safe. “No one in the industry has figured out how to lock it down. Someone can put a rogue application on the device and capture the credit card information…when you install it in a taxi you put in a device that’s literally available to 100’s of people: passengers, mechanics, operators, and drivers. One bad transaction ruins the whole program.”

The TLC said SQUARE’s system is up to industry standards but the Payment Card Industry or PCI has yet to write standards specifically for the I-Pad. The company, started by Jack Dorsey of Twitter, has been processing transactions for cab drivers in other cities like San Francisco and Orlando.

Taxi drivers supported the move toward more competition at the Commission meeting.  They welcomed the news that they’d receive quicker payment for credit card transactions—1 business day vs. a few-  and they’ll be charged less in credit card fees.

“We support breaking this exclusive monopoly these 2 companies have been enjoying”, said Bhairavi Desai, head of the Taxi Workers Alliance. “Neither have been invested in lowering the processing amount”, she added

Currently the amount the TLC allows drivers to be is charged 3.5% by the banks or processor. SQUARE is offering to drop that to 2.75%.

Drivers who lease their taxi can pay another 1.5% in fees to a fleet garage.

“We see the pilot program as a real step forward; it will give us a chance of breaking the 5%”, said Desai

The TLC is considering opening up the playing field before the current technology contracts expire next February. Officials say they’re planning to recommend that the new borough taxis in the upcoming street hail livery program be equipped with credit card readers and GPS data collection but TV’s would be optional. They said they’re seeking multiple affordable options for taxi operators to choose from.

The TLC is publishing the draft rules for selling street hail livery permits next week. A public hearing where the public can weigh in on the proposed rules is scheduled for March 22nd. The sale of the permits will begin in June, followed by the auction of 200 yellow medallions in July.

Taxi TV (photo by Kathleen Horan/WNYC)