Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why don't taxi drivers ask you what kind of music you would like to listen to?

In my years of living in New York City and traveling to dozens of cities across the country and the world, I can't recall an instance in which a taxi driver asked me what kind of music I would like to listen to, or whether I would like to travel with the radio off.

I have a hypothesis that by giving riders control over the music, taxi drivers could differentiate the experience and increase their tips.

And with technology today, it would be an easy thing to do, of course.

At the simplest end of the spectrum, a taxi driver could get satellite radio and ask the passenger what station they would like to listen to. (I'd reference the monthly cost of Sirius satellite radio here, but after a few minutes on their site I can't find the monthly price - they don't make it obvious. Let's assume $10 per month.)

At a more sophisticated level, the driver could have an iPhone loaded up with podcasts, Pandora, and Stitcher, and give the rider almost unlimited choice. Cost of this option: ~$120 per month minus what the driver already pays for his or (rarely) her cellphone bill.

How much extra would you tip a driver who asks you at the beginning of the ride, "I've got Pandora and a selection of podcasts. Would you like to listen to music? What kind of music would you like to listen to? Anything at all. Or would you rather travel with the radio off?"

This is one element of rethinking the taxi experience. Another way a taxi driver could add value: get educated on some aspect of the city and offer to give me a lesson during the ride.

The driver could learn the history of all the street names in the city, or learn about architecture, or give a running commentary on where taxi drivers eat lunch, or decipher graffiti, or know where the celebrities live. There ought to be plenty of time to study while waiting in the line at La Guardia.

Driving a cab seems at face value a classic example of the commodity job, but by rethinking the service offering, my hypothesis is that at very little cost, a driver could increase income by at least 10% if not more. And make the job more fun. Wouldn't it be more interesting to find out the musical preference of each of your fares?

Of course, my hypothesis could be wrong. Maybe some drivers have tried this, and the tips didn't go up, so they quit and went back to listening to the station that they prefer. I'd be curious if any readers have personal experience or have insight on this from a conversation with a driver.

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