April 08, 2005

Taxi self-service terminal

taxi-120.jpgJohn Lazar, President of Luxor Cabs, demonstrates the online capabilities in one of his "interactive taxis," where passengers can access news, make restaurant reservations and even purchase movie tickets from the back seat of a cab.

First cybercabs' hit the streets
By Tamara Grippi
Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, April 6, 2005 9:24 PM PDT

Cindy Chew 4/6/05

John Lazar, President of Luxor Cabs, demonstrates the online capabilities in one of his "interactive taxis," where passengers can access news, make restaurant reservations and even purchase movie tickets from the back seat of a cab.

New Yorkers Jim Piccione and Marco Pici were riding in a taxi one evening in March 2000 when they were struck with one of those crazy ideas.

"We were stuck in traffic," Piccione recalled. "It was raining. There was nothing to do and we thought what a great idea why isn't there something here to entertain us?"

This week, Piccione was on hand to witness San Francisco cabs decked out with a touch screen system offering passengers access to restaurant listings, movie showings, news and sports scores.

The technology which soon will be featured in 200 Yellow and Luxor cabs as part of a pilot program was unveiled in the first two taxis Wednesday. In March 2004, the San Francisco Taxicab Commission approved the one-year experiment.

The Interactive Taxi Co.'s back seat information kiosk provides passengers free access to an array of information including news, weather, sports, entertainment options and even city resources such as library and museum listings.

The information is housed in each unit and updated continually through the Verizon cellular network. Technology developed by PeerDirect, a unit of Progress Software Corp., ensures that passengers can continue to use the kiosk, even if the cab passes through a cellular "dead zone."

"It provides the illusion of broadband," said Doug Shelley of PeerDirect.

Riders have the option to turn down the volume or mute the sound or simply shut off the kiosk.

After creating their prototype in 2000, Piccione and Pici brought their idea to Cory Gottlieb, head of sales at TDI, now known as Viacom Outdoor Inc.

Gottlieb was experiencing the entrepreneurial itch and decided to join the duo, launching the business independently.

"I made their dream a business," Gottlieb said.

The most important piece fell into place in June of last year, when the company secured $25 million of funding from Great Hill Partners, a Boston private equity firm.

Interactive Taxi Co. first rolled out the kiosks in New York City during a one-year experiment that ended in August 2003. Six other companies, including several making use of DVD-type systems, also participated.

"We felt we wanted to get as many different products out there," said Matthew Daus, chairman of the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. New York recently issued a request for proposals calling for an expanded information system for the nearly 13,000 cabs in that city.

Interactive Taxi Co., a unit of Targeted Media Partners LLC, has also rolled out hundreds of cybercabs in Boston and Chicago.

The company is hoping soon to provide taxi passengers with the ability to order movie tickets or book restaurant reservations with the cab's touch screen service, Gottlieb said.

He sees great potential in the service.

"If you think about it, this has the power of television, the immediacy and depth of the Internet, all delivered in a space where neither of the two entities can get to."

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Posted by keefner at April 8, 2005 03:49 PM