NEW ORLEANS – When customers get into some New Orleans taxis, they’ll now have the chance to buy a cold beverage during the drive to their destination.
New Orleans Carriage Cab launched backseat vending machines Tuesday inside its 250-car fleet that also includes the Yellow-Checker Cab brands.
The latest innovation comes after the city’s entire taxi fleet of about 1,600 cars was forced to modernize. Now vehicles must be equipped with air conditioning, surveillance cameras, credit card machines and global positioning devices. The vehicles also will need to be no older than 11 years, with that age limit reduced even further to seven years in 2014.
New Orleans Carriage Cab owner Simon Garber said his 14-year-old son, Shaun, pitched the idea to offer passengers soft drinks back in 2007 but Garber said he was doubtful it could work. After continued prodding from his son, Garber said he found a patent attorney and technical experts who brought the idea to fruition. The idea took four years to develop.
“We’re launching here, in New Orleans, because this is a great tourist city, with great hospitality and opportunity for everybody,” said Garber, who operates more than 1,200 taxis nationwide.
Mark Romig, head of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., said the concept reinforces the city’s lock on hospitality.
“We pride ourselves on being No. 1 in hospitality,” he said. “It’s yet another example of how we can foster economic growth through tourism.”
“This is another way of how we’re growing and getting better every day,” said Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell, whose district includes Garber’s business.
The dispenser and touch-screen technology, created at the cost of just under a $1 million, has been tested for the past six months. Future roll outs are being planned for Chicago and New York.
Passengers, with a swipe of a credit or debit card, will have a choice of five different Coca-Cola products that cost 99 cents apiece. Each vending machine refrigerator holds 36 drinks and used cans are recycled.
“Passengers across the country will appreciate knowing they can have a cold beverage on the go at an affordable price. They will not have to make an extra stop to get a drink,” Garber said.
Currently, the dispensers are available in about 40 cabs. The rest of the fleet will get them in the next three to four months, he said. In addition, he said vending machines will be available for purchase by competing cab companies.
Taxi driver Nicholaus Rome said whether the machine goes into his cab will be up to Yellow Cab, which owns his vehicle. He said its usefulness depends on how many soft drinks are sold.
“There aren’t many long rides in New Orleans. One of the attractive things about our city is it’s such a compact city and all of the bars and restaurants allow you to carry your drinks out,” he said.
He also said the size of the machine could be a drawback for drivers who get much of their income from rides to and from the airport. “The refrigerator takes up almost a whole trunk. It limits how many (people) you can take to the airport.”
But Garber said the machines are fitted in such a way to minimize such an impact.
Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report.