Backseat Video Advertising in Taxis

The first time I saw an LCD display built into the back seat of a taxi cab, it was last New Years Eve in Mahattan. It mostly ran advertising, with intermittent weather reports and news clips. At the time, I wondered how long it would be before I saw them in BC. The answer, it turns out, is about four months.

Taxi Advertising

This latest intrusion was in the back seat of a Vancouver Taxi cab. The company that offers them is Moving Media Group, a Vancouver-based company that specializes in digital screens in cabs. The screens have apparently been in operation since last November.

In my taxi, the screen replaced the headrest on the passenger side front seat. The unit is actually surprisingly thick (here’s a side view), and with the seat reclined, the screen really imposed itself on my field of view. In New York, the display was built into the back of the cab’s front bench seat. Its commercials had audio, which (thus far, at least) my Vancouver cab didn’t. As in New York, the content seemed like it was mostly advertising combined ‘breaking news’ headlines and weather updates.

Dumb Display Ads

Does anybody not find this development totally egregious? In an age where marketers and media companies are re-evaluating the fundamental efficacy of ‘dumb’ display ads, why introduce yet another distraction engine into the consumer’s view? Does the Moving Media Group imagine that we don’t yet have enough commercials and advertisements in our daily life?

Besides, I’m already paying the driver to take me from Point A to B. I’m not paying for the privilege of watching ads for the balance of my journey.

A couple of years ago I went to the bathroom in a pub. Stepping up to the urinal, I looked up to see a video display showing a beer commercial. Increasingly, we’re ceding space to useless, ineffectual advertising. This trend is particularly offensive where, in places like pubs, hockey arenas and taxis, we’re already paying for a service. Shouldn’t we be able to enjoy the experience of, say, riding in a cab or micturating without the intrusion of a commercial?

I touched the screen (I know, kind of gross, no?) only once. Following instructions, I touched the “Touch for Menu” button at the bottom of the screen. And I apparently broke the thing:

TouchTaxi Diagnostics

Looks like it’s both Bluetooth and GPS-enabled.

I searched for TouchTaxi, and found TouchTaxi Media. It looks like they make the technology (here’s a demo), and have rolled it out in Australia. Here’s the money quote from the TouchTaxi site:

By fixating consumer attention on the screen, all advertisers can take advantage of this captive audience.

The next time I flag a cab that has a video monitor instead of a head rest, I’m going to wave the driver off and wait for the next one. I encourage you to do the same.


  1. The only way they could sell me on this is if taxi rides with these things in them were free. And even then I’d probably throw a blanket over the screen.

    About the only place where I’ve found these types of screens a benefit is in elevators. Gives everyone a convenient place to look to avoid making eye contact with one another.

  2. In Singapore, where I live, we’ve had these for several years now. My problem is that the motion on the screen makes me car-sick, but the cab driver can’t switch off the screen. One sympathetic driver flipped a small towel over the seat back to save me.

    After years of these things, I can vouch for the fact that they are dreadful AND useless at reaching any kind of target audience (even an apparently captive one).

  3. I have been in taxis in New York and Vancouver with these screens. The ones in New York were loud and had limited functionality. However, I thought the ones in Vancouver were awesome and super interactive! I read jokes, watched the map as my taxi drove down the street, looked up a restaurant with pictures and checked out the latest Flight Centre deals.

  4. At last I don’t feel the need to make painful conversation with the driver. Actually I read him a joke! I say, press the easily found OFF button and let the rest of us choose to enjoy our apparently “dumb” entertainment.

    1. Jason, sounds like you know a lot about these devices, and that you’re a big fan. Could it be that you work for the company that makes them?

  5. Interesting that this media was so ineffective that people are taking pictures and writing about it?

  6. The only way I’d tolerate this is if I had the choice: if the screen was on, I got a discount on my ride.

    Otherwise, they can stuff it.

    Darren, what are the IP addresses of the astroturfing commenters?


  7. Idle time is a great time to capture a mind open to advertising: elevator rides, TV before Tivo, cab rides, bathroom time, etc.

    If advertising are willing to pay for 1 way intrusive ads, and ad companies want to share $ with the cab company, we can only see this getting more pervasive.

  8. Ditto several others here: the ride is free or steeply discounted, or it’s turned off.

    As for Mr. Kennedy’s astroturfing, which reads like a brochure, I’m taking the time to call the two cab companies I use to let them know I hope to never see these things in their cars. Thanks for the nudge, Jason!

    1. Good idea, Todd, I’ve just done the same.

      The guy to talk to at Vancouver Taxi is the general manager, whose first name is Tony. He’s away this week, but will be back next Monday.

  9. Seriously? I would think that we all have better things to worry about than this.

    Darren, don’t ever plan on visiting a restroom in downtown Vancouver and doing your business in a stall. They’ve got screens in there now too.

  10. Wow! Some of you guys sound like a bunch of cry babies. Just because one pays for a taxi ride doesn’t suggest you own the vehicle. It’s like not wanting to drive cause you are afraid of “driving over” the tiny cute ants that are crossing the road. Duhh!! Here’s a tip, get a bike or walk.

    Whether you like it or not, seeing/watching a Budweiser commercial over and over again will not necessarily prevent one from drinking it. The underlying truth is that adverts send subliminal messages. So, we don’t have to go to far on this issue, unless some might prefer to heed to the good old book and “Pluck out their eyes” if seeing brings sin.

    Major American brands sell all over the world and thats why some of you have jobs. For the fact that i can drink a bottle of Coke in Africa is due to the fact that Coke is an American/Global brand.

    The only good point that someone brought forth is content. That’s a challenge!

    Just for the record, i own a digital signage company.

  11. [Editor’s Note: Daryl did not disclose that he too, according to his email address, works for a digital signage company]

    I agree with bigchu, you don’t own the Taxi and if you don’t want to watch then look out the window!

    I think that there is a benefit to having the screens, If I’m looking for a restaurant or a club and the screens can locate them, then great!

    What I also like is the fact that if I don’t know where the location is because I’m new or traveling on business then I can use the GPS and not worry that I’m being over changed for my ride. I can pay for my ride without handing over my credit card.

    I think that its good for the advertisers as well be that you are a captured audience.

  12. Personally I think this is pretty cool, I love the idea of the GPS to show where you are and where you’re going. Would also be handy to see where restaurants and cafes are on route to your destination so you know where they are when you’re walking around later. I guess with everyone having GPS on their iphones and other devices it will quickly be made pointless though.

  13. i’m wondering, of those of you who object to these video ads, do you object to the static ads?
    The cabs have ads on the back and top of the car, and additionally what if the device evolved to provided some useful features, like amber alerts, or emergency functions. I suggest we let the technology grow for technology sake, maybe they could just dim automatically if not touched/used. Is anybody out there with me? Compromise perhaps.

  14. Totally agree with you re: this advertising creep. It’s happening all over.

    In my city of Glasgow, Scotland taxis have the screens too, but even more offensive is that they have them on the buses:

    See here:

    And the company who provides the service with them similarly talks about “captive” audiences –

    “Due to media clutter and fragmentation there are fewer audiences that are considered truly captive. Bus passengers are one of the few remaining untapped static audiences.

    Which is even truer about buses, as people who cannot afford a car have no choice nut to take the bus (especially if there is no train station near them).

    I’m protesting about it through my government – as buses are still considered a pseudo-public service and receive government funding.


  15. And the particular point about these is the audio/visual content. Impossible to ignore as a passenger, and entirely offensive, instrusive and inappropriate.

    Yes, “traditional” ads are everywhere – and personally I think there are too many of those too.

    Sao Paulo banned billboards, good idea:

  16. 6 years ago I had the pleasure of running 250 screens in the City of Toronto. We also incorporated GPS advertising to the mix allowing pop-up ads to play at certain areas of the city. If a taxicab travels from downtown Toronto and in one day will enter atleast 3 other municipalities, if you know the diversity of Toronto you quickly can realize how effective such MEDIUM can be at a larger scale. NOTE – I only had 250 vehicles.
    Unfortunatelly with my attempts to contact such companies like the one being mentioned in this advertisement I found that the owner was only interested to grow his own network. To my point!
    Only when this form of media becomes a National used concept in the Taxi Industry will we see that more people see the functionality of having – FREE INTERNET ACCESS and REAL-TIME INFORMATION – where if you compare that to any other broadcast in your life right now – you are still having to pay for it in one way or another.
    Outdoor Media can help you “passenger” in many different ways while you are on the road. Obviously if the company putting it out has put little development in the content offered it will NOT be the case however with a perfect mix of interactive content I will bet that I can get any demographic to enjoy a screen inside a taxicab AND be capture the advertising moment!
    THE OFF BUTTON is located on the TOP RIGHT CORNER, it takes a moment of your time to turn it off if you don’t like it. It stays on until the TAXI METER is reset. Going back ON for the next passenger entering the vehicle.
    Will Toronto have these screens in the next 2 years? 100% in atleast 2500+ vehicles!

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