Siri Is Now One Step Closer to Ruling All Taxis in NYC

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Uber and Lyft have made it easy for would-be taxi drivers to bypass the 80-question exam required of certified New York City taxi drivers — and have made the robotic hum of GPS devices an all but mandatory companion for people using the car apps to get around the city. 

In London, where official cab drivers study for years to memorize the city before getting a license, the growing competition from GPS-enhanced drivers has also led to fears of diminished ranks. 

The New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, facing a shortage of drivers and higher fail rates on the taxi driver’s license exam, decided to stop fighting a losing battle and join its trendy brethren in letting drivers outsource navigation to Google Maps. The taxi driver’s exam no longer features tough geography questions; the only time street names appear on the exam is in ten questions concerning how well potential drivers can read a map. Questions about English language proficiency and safety now dominate the test — which has seen higher pass rates in recent weeks. 

Today’s New York Times featured an A-1 story on the easier taxi quiz. The article was dominated by quotes from terrified New Yorkers imagining a horror movie in which taxi drivers could not find the first city landmark that popped into their head.

Taxi expert Carolyn Baker, described as “a lifelong New Yorker who has been taking cabs for more than 50 years,” told the Times, “If I got into a cab and the driver didn’t know where Penn Station was, that’d be ridiculous. I mean, would you hire a chef who never fried an egg?” A taxi training teacher said, “I think it’s stupid that a New York City cabdriver can get his hack license without knowing where the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building is,” while a 30-year taxi driver bemoaned the idea of a fellow driver not knowing where Radio City Music Hall is. 

In other words, the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission is likely relying on residents to continue to believe they know the city better than taxi drivers, along with additional prayers to Siri, the patron saint of new drivers, as a way to keep things from changing too much in the future.