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One thing Sam hates about being a Manhattan cabbie is picking up tourists hoping to see a Broadway show. “They are always yelling at me, drive faster, we’ve still got to buy our tickets.”
So Sam, who asked we not use his last name, was first on line to try out Verifone’s new taxi tablets, which are being piloted in about 100 Big Apple cabs in place of the traditional TV unit. One of the features being tested is the ability for riders to purchase tickets for movies or Broadway shows during the ride, and get their ticket printed out along with their receipt.
Riders hoping to hop in a cab, check their email and play a quick game of angry birds are in for a letdown. “We’ve tested it, and believe, playing angry birds in a moving vehicle is not as fun as it sounds,” said Jason Gross, Verifone’s director of strategy and marketing, who came along for the test ride. Half the time we’re in a taxi it doesn’t seem to moving much at all, but let’s not quibble.
Some of the cool things Gross and his team are testing out: social media integration that displays tweets and facebook updates geo-tagged to your current location as you’re travelling. A lottery service that lets riders buy their tickets at the same time as they are paying the fare, and credits the winnings directly to their account if they use a debit card.And if riders decide to swipe their cards at the beginning of the ride, so that they can pay quickly at the end, Gross says Verifone is testing out ways to personalize the TV and news experience based on past preferences. “We just want to be careful to protect people’s privacy, because this is based off a payment,” Gross emphasized.
The new tablet taxis are being tested in part because Square, the red-hot Silicon Valley payment startup, convinced the city to allow it to test out its own tablet taxi that would use an iPad and a Square credit card reader. “We welcome the competition, but I don’t think Square really knows what it takes to support a fleet of cabs,” said Chris Polos, Verifone’s vice-president of sales. “This is a mission critical unit, its illegal for cabbies to drive without them. If it breaks, we can get it repaired and running again 24/7. I’m not sure Square can say the same.”
Instead of an iPad, Polos says Verifone is using an tablet they built themselves with open source hardware and running Windows XP. “We’re all about bringing more competition and finding ways to drive down the costs for drivers and riders,” Polos said. What about the fact that Square would offer lower fees than traditional credit card readers, we asked. “You get what you pay for. They aren’t going to have streaming TV bringing news to riders. What they offering sounds like a stripped down experience, basically just a tablet with a map.”
Them’s fighting words, but we’ll be bringing you all the details of Square’s efforts in the near future, when we take a ride along in one of their pilot taxi cabs.