That Yellow Screen in the Taxi Isn’t a GPS

April 24, 2007

Boston cabs recently began sporting oblong boxes with simple LCD screens anchored on the dashboard next to the driver. Always curious, I asked: GPS?

No. Instead, it’s something that has anecdotally greatly improved the drivers’ fare intake: A computerized dispatch system to replace the constant stream of radio announcements. Before, every cab could hear the available fares over the radio, so the first one there won and the others had to find someone else.

Now, the number of available fares are listed by zone – a two- or three-digit number assigned to a section of the region, memorized by the drivers. If they want to claim a fare, they signal that with the press of a few buttons. The first to claim is the only one who sees the exact address. The rest just return to the main screen, or a person on the street flags them down. There’s limited directional help, just the cross street for a particular address.

The two drivers I’ve talked to about the system love it. One scoffed about the few drivers who have bought their own separate GPS navigators. Partly it’s a question of self-respect as a cab driver, partly it’s about the number of accidents the GPS users get into trying to watch the GPS, watch the dispatch, scan the streets for random fares, and drive without hitting anything.

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