Redesigning the NYC taxi experience – without the rider

April 11, 2012 By Mark Hurst 9 Comments

In a recent NYT article we learn that the taxi-riding experience is being intensely redesigned:

[Taxi commissioner] Yassky and the designer, Francois Farion of Nissan, were in the midst of rethinking every element of New York’s next taxicab, and when a once-in-a-lifetime chance comes along, no detail can be overlooked.

Every single detail, scoured by the agency head and the lead designer. The material of the plastic partition, the color of the meter cover, the sound of the horn. Impressive.

Still, despite the exhaustively detail-oriented process, it feels like something is missing. Or rather someone. Is there anyone else whose input might be important on these decisions? Perhaps a person who might be affected? Can you think of anyone other than the city agency, and the vendor, whose input might be helpful in determining the outcome?

Or perhaps we have all the relevant constituents in the room: which would mean that Nissan is designing a single car for the taxi commissioner to ride, alone, throughout the city. 

I feel silly spelling it out, but it’s worth stating: when a decision affects customers, it’s helpful to involve customers in the decision. 

We do learn that Nissan conducted a focus group, in which “some New Yorkers said they were unsure about the whole endeavor: ‘It’s a 10-minute cab ride anyway, so why bother?’” In other words, a standard focus group – asking a group of people their general opinions – failed to generate specific insights into what customers wanted. Instead, imagine if Nissan had observed the current customer experience and tried to understand people’s key unmet needs.

Meanwhile, here’s how the team chose a taxi horn:

Three choices were proffered. The first option, more common to Europe, had a screechy, goofy tone; Mr. Yassky grimaced slightly as the honk filled the room. … Finally, a solution was found. Mr. Yassky tensed for the third horn, only to relax as a mournful trumpet blast resonated through the speakers. It was deep but not jarring, loud but not shrill.

I suppose we’ll find out how actual riders react to the new taxi experience once the budget is fully spent and the taxis are fully deployed.

I don’t mean to pick on the taxi commission, as they’re simply using the process the most common innovation process today: making significant decisions in the customer experience without any meaningful inclusion of the customer in the process. 

For your next customer experience project, make sure to include customers early, and meaningfully, in the process. 


  1. Bert Spangler April 11, 2012 5:16 pm

    Too bad including customer input, early and meaningfully in the process isn’t the common sense norm.

  2. Andrew L April 11, 2012 6:19 pm

    And it’s not *just* the rider.

    The people most affected by NYC taxi horns are people who live in NYC. I used to live there and it’s all you can hear all the time. The horn is almost never used to warn of danger, it’s just an expression of the driver’s anger.

    Ask any NYC resident what horn sound they want and they are likely to ask for a silent one. Or one that costs the driver $1 per use.

    A missed opportunity indeed.

    • Hassan May 07, 2012 8:47 pm

      Dude, us REAL New Yorkers don’t mind the horns at all. If you ever actually DROVE in New York, you would understand why they horn. The accidents would increase like crazy if they got a horn that didn’t do the job properly. There are tons of New Yorkers who couldn’t care less about the horns and feel like changing that would significantly alter the feel of the city. Those horns have become music on the street. Could you imagine a quiet New York city? That would be terrible.

  3. karim April 12, 2012 3:35 am

    I think NY taxi should not be equipped with horn because drivers over use it. Taxi experience has nothing to do with the car but rather with the driver. If there is traffic, if you are late to the airport or if the car is not in a superb shape, you’ll forget it all when the driver shows a good attitude (with you the customer), and when he is capable of handling all issues that come across in a positive manner that can relieve your stress during the short journey. The car is just a part of the experience; the guy who drives it is what will make your trip a good or a bad experience.

  4. ayouens April 12, 2012 4:51 pm

    Wow – I am amazed. Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but isn’t involving the customer in what you’re building a business fundamental.

    I suppose if NYC taxis had a major competitor involving the customer would be at the top of their list. Is this what happens when you have a monopoly?

  5. Mark Towfiq April 13, 2012 2:53 pm

    My takeaway from the article was different, as it seemed they _did_ involve the customer in the process:

    The taxi project is viewed as a coup by Nissan, which has already begun a tie-in marketing campaign. But it was also a novel, and sometimes difficult, process for a multibillion-dollar corporation that rarely has to cope with a real live customer sitting in on its planning meetings, kvetching about backseat air-conditioning levels and picking apart its design ideas.

    But they weren’t exactly happy about it:

    All that negotiation can make a car designer “feel they are getting directed like a puppet on a string,” Mr. Farion said over a seafood dinner, after wrapping up a 12-hour day of discussions. “We rarely design a car for two or three levels of customers, and that’s really what we have here: you design for the T.L.C., the customer, the cabdriver, the fleet owner, and you have to satisfy each a little bit.”

    • Mark Hurst April 13, 2012 3:16 pm

      The article said a lot about “the customer” they were listening to – which was the taxi commissioner.

      I’d be more interested to hear if they included “the customer” in the sense of people (other than the taxi commissioner) who will be riding in the cabs.

      Did the design team involve *them*? The only evidence in the article is the mention of a single focus group.

  6. Tom Lent April 14, 2012 3:16 pm

    Oh c’mon Mark, You are very selectively reading a lot into one NYT article – and misquoting it to boot to make your point. This process is the culmination of a number of focus groups – you left the plural off – not one general opinion question. Do you really believe that the one cherry picked dismissive comment the author quoted from the focus groups represents all they asked and learned? Please do a little more research before bashing.

  7. Sigivald April 25, 2012 3:30 pm

    The other issue is that it’s New York.

    I suspect very strongly that everyone on the Taxi Commission is a customer themselves.