09.01.2003 12:00 PM
New York City’s taxi TV bites the dust

The Big Apple has said “NO” to taxi TV. Less than a year after the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission agreed to run a pilot program allowing seven entertainment companies to offer some form of television service in the backseats of cabs, city officials have axed the project.

The stated reason was insufficient public support and advertising that was an “inappropriate accompaniment” to a city cab ride. “New Yorkers didn’t embrace these units like they could have,” Matthew W. Daus, the commission’s chairman, told the New York Times. “Our surveys indicated that those who experienced the units showed either indifference or negativity. We saw no compelling need to keep them around.”

Daus put the situation far more politely than many irate New York City cab riders, who were already annoyed by loud, screeching audio seat belt reminders recorded by celebrities. Riders angrily complained about the noise and images flickering on the bright screen in one of the last sanctuaries of quiet in the city. Though proponents of the taxi TV initiative argued that riders could turn the screens off, it was often hard to find the control switch, especially in the darkness of night.

Bruno Lucarelli, a spokesman for I Love Taxi TV, a video product of Intell Marketing of Long Island City, Queens, said: “When we asked why, we were told it was determined that TVs in cabs were not good for the city of New York.”

Lucarelli disputed that, contending the backseat ads were mere interludes to a programming diet that he described as “benign, harmless, positive, upbeat, this-is-a-great-city type of stuff.” He noted that his company provided public service announcements as part of the service. “Basically, it’s ‘Buckle your seat belt, get a receipt, and don’t hit a bicycle when you leave’ sort of stuff,” Lucarelli said. “Who wouldn't want that in a cab? This is about little minds in big-city politics.”

The TV screens—provided by five companies after two of the original dropped out—started appearing in cabs last January. To date, about 550 taxis have them installed and operating. Plans called for thousands more to be installed in the coming months.

The TV companies contend termination of the project will cost them millions of dollars, though the city licenses were issued for only a year and the city said all were warned in advance they would be taking a financial risk in the venture. The companies plan to seek a court injunction against the city for the action.

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