Starting Monday, already wired New Yorkers will become even more so when the first 10 Internet taxicabs - complete with Palm VII handheld computers tucked into the back - hit the street.
Web portal Yahoo! teamed up with Palm Inc., Medallion Financial Corp., which owns taxi-top advertising rights, and Team Systems Corp., one of the largest taxi fleets in the city, for the six-month promotional program.
There's no extra charge to ride in the purple-splashed cabs, which have the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission's blessings.
"The Internet used to be just for people at their desktops, then their laptops. But this program is really about getting the Internet where you need it most, on the road, on the go," Linda Bennett, brand manager for Yahoo! said Thursday when the specially outfitted cabs made their media debut.
Riders can start hailing the cabs next week. Although there aren't many of them, they aren't hard to tell from the other 12,000 New York cabs. Each has a purple Yahoo! sign splashed on the sides and top.
Inside, the normally black upholstered seat has been replaced with an eye-popping purple. A small pouch in the back of the driver's seat holds a Palm VII computer, secured to the seat via a sturdy stretchy wire and small enough to hold in the hand.
It is not the first time taxi riders have been wired for the Web. A similar program was tested in San Francisco cabs last year using laptops, Bennett said.
The Palm computers allow riders to look up weather, sports reports, news and, coming soon, the latest stock prices, she said.
If successful, Dean Ryan of Medallion Financial Corp., says he sees the program expanding across the country.
"This is for everyone," Ryan said. "You don't have to have a computer at home. All you need to know is if you want to go to a movie on the east side or west side, go to a restaurant, get a sports score and that's what we think it will do for people."
For everyone, huh?
Don and Diane Breese, tourists from Toledo, Ohio, were invited by The Associated Press to ride along on its press preview and try out the system.
While admitting they were not computer literate, the Breeses gave it a try. "I can't read a thing," the 65-year-old Diane Breese said, adjusting her glasses. "Can you, dear?"
Don Breese, a retired banker, was content to let his wife be the guinea pig. Though he has a computer at home and 14 grandchildren who are e-mail fanatics, Breese, 69, says he never touches it.
After fiddling with the resolution, the couple managed to punch up the weather report for Cincinnati. "Oh, this is adorable!" Diane Breese exclaimed. "I think this is a very good thought, a wonderful idea."
So she would use it, right?
"Oh, no. No," she emphatically replied. "I would be afraid I'd break something."