Since I cannot devote as much time to blogging as I would like, I cannot be as complete as I would like in this particular post. (At 60 or more hours a week driving, blogging has got to be a sideline.) The subject, however, needs more research than I can give to it now in order to be done right, and so, dear reader, you will have to consider this post a trial run of the more thorough treatment that, hopefully, will emerge over time.
That subject is : how does the taxi tv work?
By this I mean, what is its goal, and how does it achieve it?
The goal, of course, is to generate revenue for the TLC and (presumably) for owners of cabs. This is done by charging the companies who advertise on the the tube to pay for doing so.
But what do they expect to accomplish by this advertising, you might ask (or I might ask, for “purposes of argument,” shall we say).
The first point to remember is that, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, there are, on average, at least 5 to 6 million cab passengers per week year round in New York City. And all these people are confined to a relatively tiny place, for 5 or 10 minutes, or longer — and in the case of airport trips maybe for 30 or 40 minutes.
This makes of them a captive audience.
If they were at home, they could get up and go the the kitchen to make a sandwich while the “commercials” were on, or call a friend, or use their computers. In other words, they could escape.
On the other hand, when they’re in the back of the cab, they can go nowhere : they are stuck where they are, and can’t move much more than a foot in either direction. They are trapped. They are restrained. There is nowhere they can go.
This is where the advertisers begin to scent blood. The ads they inflict on cab passengers are nowhere so easy to evade as the ads they inflict on people at home or in cars. Such people have begun tuning ads out in greater and greater numbers. At this point there is even software that deletes ads when someone records material on a VCR.
I have been informed by several passengers from the ad industry that the industry is “in crisis.”
What to do?
Well — leaving the taxi tv aside for the moment — one way to turn the tables on the increasingly large part of the public that is sick of ads is to place “advertising media” (fancy words for “boob tubes”) in places where you can’t ignore them.
One such place is a gas station. Now, often, you will pump your gas beneath a tv tube featuring an ad campaign, with some weather thrown in, just to get you to look at the tube in the first place.
Or elevators. Did you ever think you would see tv’s in elevators? Probably not, but now you do, and will, because you’re trapped on the elevator and, therefore, a perfect object for an ad.
As people get better at evading ads at home and in their cars, the ads, refusing to be denied, are shadowing these people all around town. You and I are, in effect, being shadowed. Shadowed by advertisers, and by the ad agencies they hire to make up the ads in the first place.
Perhaps the best venue for persistent advertising is the back of a taxicab, because the average cab ride is longer than the average elevator ride or the average time spent pumping gas.
And so, presto! — the taxi tv!
Loved by few, loathed by many, but esteemed — if only as a last ditch effort by a challenged industry — as the salvation of the day!
You can’t escape it like you do the ads at home : it has you right where it wants you.
And, after you’ve left the cab, its accomplices will stalk you right into the elevator you take and the gas station you fill up at. And — who knows — it might soon be coming to a house of worship in your very own neighborhood, and even — dare we object? — to your library, your beach, your park, your woodlot, your garbage dump, your roof, your lobby, your air shaft. Dare we assume your toilet itself is far behind?
After all, several years ago no one foresaw TV’s in the backs of taxis, or at gas stations, or in elevators …
The legacy Mike Bloomberg seems to be interested in carving out for himself is coming to seem to be one of personal health : he has helped New Yorkers become healthier through his various health initiatives, and it is this that he will be remembered for above all else. — Or, so his thinking goes these days.
There’s a lot to be said on this subject, and no single blog post could hope to say it all.
I would like to focus on one very small, but clear and precise detail in the health orientation of our mayor.
By now (August 2012) when the vast majority of my customers have lost any interest in the taxi TV and have come to consider it, more often than not, a nuisance, and even something great numbers of them are eager to say they “hate” — by now I have been told thousands of times by these passengers that the Taxi TV makes them “sick.”
Somewhere around two thirds of women, and around one third of men, claim to get car sick when it’s on.
What does this mean?
Well, it seems to mean that the mayor’s concern for health is, at best, variable. There are over 5 million cab passengers a week, and, if around half of them are getting sick from the experience, as they say they are, then that means that the mayor’s brainstorm, the Taxi TV, is making somewhere between 2 and 3 million people sick every week.
Or : 130 million people a year.
Or, now that the TV tube has been in place for 4 years : 520 million people to date.
Which is to say, that the mayor can claim to have made half a billion people sick in the last 4 years.
Now there’s a health legacy!
The mayoral battle to “legalize street hails” for livery cabs in the boroughs, and to increase by 2,000 the number of yellow cabs (generally in Manhattan), has been lost in the courts.
From a temporary restraining order, the judge on the case has moved to outright and final rejection of the plan, on constitutional grounds. (The plan was clearly unconstitutional, and only mayoral egomania could have thought otherwise.)
But before a chorus of, “They’re getting in the way of another great idea from this great mayor,” rises up, I’d like to point out that the plan, in my opinion, was a fraud from the start.
If it had gone through as conceived, this plan would have allowed the city to start collecting sizeable amounts of revenue from the livery industry, starting now, and, almost certainly, increasing in amount as time went on. It is my perception that this was the only consideration at work in the creation and promulgation of this plan.
Forget sympathy for the outer borough folks who have to stand in the rain while the bad Manhattan cabby passes them by. There are livery cabs galore in the boroughs, and — I can attest to this, having driven for a livery cab company — these livery cabs pick up people off the street all the time. (If they are ever reluctant to, it is because some inspector with a ticket quota mandated from a cash-hungry city hall is waiting to protect his or her job by passing the grief along to someone lower down the pecking order.)
Is there even a need to “legalize” street hails in the outer boroughs?
Of course not!
Every day thousands of car owners in New York move their cars from one side of the street to the other, where they (illegally) double park — all in order to allow street sweepers to sweep the side of their streets designated for cleaning. While this is illegal, the police, acting on their own discretion, chose never to enforce this law, and, so long as the driver stays in his or her car, no tickets are given.
It could be the same with “illegal” livery pickups in the boroughs, couldn’t it?
Of course it could. Just allow them, by discretion of the police force.
Let our beloved mayor call his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, and tell him to let those liveries pick up those wet passengers …
In less than 24 hours : the problem’s solved.
And no one has to be defrauded into thinking that legislation is needed to “bring taxi service to the outer boroughs.”
That would be especially pleasing when the legislation is a red herring for the city to get into the pockets of the livery industry, and make them pay for the reluctance of the mayor to raise his own and his friends’ taxes.
So, hooray for the judge. And boo! for Bloomberg.
The average passenger has long since realized there’s nothing of value for him or her on the Taxi TV.
Although the assumption at first was that there might be something useful on the tube, that idea went by the boards pretty quickly, as even the most diehard Bloomberg fan had to admit that 50 hearings of the Mary Poppins commercial were — maybe — a bit too much.
So why is the thing back there anyway?
Revenue, of course. The nickel-and-dime billionaire who is our mayor has never hid the fact that the prime consideration in installing the monstrosity was money. Despite some notions being floated that gullible tourists would be seduced into heading for certain restaurants based on cab advertisements spontaneously acted on, (an event I’ve never known to happen in 4 years or so), the fallback position has always been that companies would pay for ad time on the tube, and this would constitute a valuable “revenue stream.”
That the whole ordeal would be a prolonged ugly experience for drivers and passengers alike wasn’t much factored in, apparently.
Some questions one might ask : how much money is involved? and who gets it?
The answer (to both)?
The mayor has made claims of openness and “transparency” in government : the city budget, he has claimed, is available for public viewing on the internet.
The city budget is available — to a degree — on the internet. But, as for information on the amount of revenue brought in by the Taxi TV — there is none. The subject is not covered. As for information on the agencies or entities that get the money : none.
So much for “transparency.”
For some reason, many people like to think cab drivers “make out” really well.
(For some reason, too, they seem to be attached to the phrase “make out,” when it comes to expressing themselves on the topic. Why this should be, I don’t know.)
One easy way of calculating just how well cab drivers — at least in New York — are doing (or “making out,” I suppose) is to take the latest Taxi and Limousine Commission estimate of the average take-home pay for a cab shift, and to divide this by the number of hours in a shift.
Sound easy? Let’s do it.
Average pay for a taxi shift : $130.
Average number of hours in a taxi shift : 12.
Therefore, average pay per hour for a New York City cab driver : $10.83.
And this they call “making out.”
Which dictionary are they using!?
Yesterday I posted an appraisal of the new fare increase — about which I was enthusiastic, citing especially the role of TLC Chairperson David Yassky as something to be happy about. Another day, however, and doubts creep in. Currently held up by a judge’s temporary restraining order is a plan advanced by the State of New York and supported by the mayor and the TLC calling for an additional 2,000 cabs to be put on the streets in future months. The TLC is confident the delay isn’t final, and the cabs will eventually be cleared for service.
My question : if that happens, then what happens to the fare “increase”?
There are already about 14,000 cabs on the road. Adding 2,000 more equates to an increase in the total fleet of about 15%, and, consequently, a like increase to the competition the average driver faces. So, if the average driver stands to see his business fall off by 15% due to increased competition (a likely development), then what happens to the fare increase? It seems to rapidly shrink to 2%, doesn’t it?
Is this just another cosmetic deception, like many others from the Commission?
Well, we shall see what happens — whether the new cab initiative goes through, and what the results will actually turn out to be. Only time will tell. But : at this point, doubts about the fare “increase” are not to be rejected out of hand. Things have not played out thoroughly, the truth will come only when the fare is in place, and the fate of the increased cab plan is known and its effects experienced.
Just when everything seemed so rosy …
Yes, it finally happened. The Taxi and Limousine Commission announced yesterday that the the taxi fare would be increased by 17%.
What does this mean?
It means that, unlike the last two or three years, the rest of 2012 and 2013 will see me making more than the exact dollar amount I was making in 1984.
It means that, unlike his immediate predecessors, TLC Chairperson David Yassky has been able to consider the well-being of the 44,000 drivers who rely on him to set fares and other standards in a fair and intelligent manner.
It means that fares have been set with an eye to workers being able to live somewhat normal lives in a country that is not a “developing” one.
It also might mean — and I strongly suspect it does — that a tremendous band-aid has been placed on an industry just before the worst results of mismanagement kick in …
But what do I mean by this?
For the last several years the taxi business has been so badly managed that, according to dispatching personnel, no new drivers have been showing up to apply for taxi jobs.
With a trend like that, in time, there will be no available taxicabs in New York City, because there will be no one to drive them.
Ticket blitzes both for non-existent violations and legal acts have become epidemic in recent times. Hassles like never before have emerged at the offices of the TLC. The industry as a whole has been not so much regulated as micro-managed in an aggressive, know-nothing way, far exceeding anything in keeping with the original legislation that created the Commission 40 years ago.
From the start of his tenure as head of the TLC, I have noticed a different attitude in the current Chairperson. With the fare increase, he seems to have come through with an act emblematic of what I originally took to be his sensitivity to the needs of others, and a more evolved notion of what the term “public service” means than that possessed by those who went before him over the last ten years or so.
But, as I said, I can’t help but wonder, too, if the thought of the damage done to this industry by the last group in power did not make the need for keeping older drivers and attracting new ones a cause for a much needed — and long delayed — cash infusion. No one is going to turn out for a job in an industry with no respect for workers, no legality in enforcement, and no good ideas generally — and not very much money either.