Passengers Speak Out in Taxi Survey

Passengers in New York City taxicabs like to pay by credit card. They take cabs because they are late, tired or weighted down by unwieldy bags, and they are most likely to hail a taxi once a week. Cabs should be easier to get in and out of, they say, and those backseat televisions ought to be banned entirely.

The peeves and habits of riders who frequent one of New York’s more famous modes of mass transit emerged last week with the release of a large-scale survey (pdf) by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, which quizzed riders on their experiences in the city’s iconic yellow fleet.

The revelations are slightly less titillating than an episode of, say, “Taxicab Confessions,” and no questions about backseat make-out sessions appeared on the survey form. But the results sketch out a fairly granular portrait of the urban taxi-goer, who, it turns out, is a harried, well-to-do individual who prefers environmentally friendly vehicles and would not mind being able to charge a cellphone while enjoying the ride, if that can be arranged.

It should be noted that this was not the most precise survey sample ever assembled. The city received self-selected responses from about 22,000 people — about 0.009 percent of the 240 million cab rides that occur each year.

The results also skew male and young; only a third of the respondents were women, and more than half were 18 to 35 years of age, possibly a byproduct of the survey’s being offered only online. At a news conference about the survey last week, David S. Yassky, the chairman of the taxi commission, noted that the true universe of passengers is probably older and more balanced by gender.

That said, it is still rare to hear from 22,000 taxi riders all at once. And the conclusions back up some of the anecdotal evidence that has dominated taxi discourse for some time.

The most common reason to take a cab, according to the survey takers, was “It’s late / I’m tired,” followed closely by, “I’m in a hurry / trying to save time.” The ability to pay by credit card, an innovation that became standard only in 2007, was the highest-rated part of the cab ride, followed by the widespread availability of yellow cabs on the streets. (Perhaps not surprisingly, more than half of the survey respondents live in Manhattan.)

A third of respondents were not fans of Taxi TV, deeming it annoying, and about 37 percent said cabs were too expensive. Aggressive driving also ranked high on the complaint list, along with drivers who speak little English or are unfamiliar with city geography. Cabbies gabbing on cellphones, however, was not offered as a choice.

The city is in the midst of picking a new taxicab vehicle to replace the Ford Crown Victoria, which will be discontinued by Ford this year. Asked what they would like to see in the new cab, respondents rated environmental friendliness as their top criteria, followed by more comfortable seating for passengers.

Passengers also want doors that are easier to open, along with better interior lighting, an electric charger in the backseat, and a sunroof for better skyline views. Another preference: exterior lights that warn pedestrians and other drivers that a passenger is about to debark.

A whopping 86 percent of respondents deemed it “very” or “somewhat” important that a cab can carry four riders in the backseat: coincidentally, a feature unique to the taxi design submitted by Karsan, a Turkish company that is vying for the city contract.

From a design perspective, 66 percent of respondents preferred the Karsan over its competitors by Ford and Nissan. And 39 percent said they “loved” the Karsan, more than twice the response in that category to its two competitors.


Our transit reporter, Michael M. Grynbaum, advises you on the latest chatter from the city’s roads and rails. Check back every Monday. Got a tip? He can be reached at [email protected]

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