People keep stealing those new tablets out of Philly taxis

The thefts have cost 215 Get-a-Cab nearly $4,000 so far.

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Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

If you’ve been in the back seat of a taxi recently, you may have noticed a few tweaks. The partition window has all but vanished from most vehicles. The payment system has become more streamlined and user-friendly. You might’ve even hailed the cab through a mobile app.

If you did, you connected with another new feature in taxis — the dashboard tablet.

Installed in many 215-Get-a-Cab cars starting last October, the 8-inch Samsung touchscreens replace the traditional LED meter fare displays. They also help cab drivers find passengers, set routes and calculate drive times via GPS. They’re pretty much an essential tech upgrade if cab companies stand any chance of surviving in the age of ridesharing.

But there’s been a snag in the rollout: People keep stealing the tablets.

Since introducing the devices, 215 Get-a-Cab has fielded 10 reports of theft resulting from “vandalism,” according to Danielle Friedman, the company’s general counsel. At $350 a pop, that’s nearly four grand “out of pocket” spent on replacement tablets in just under four months.

What makes the situation more aggravating for all parties — even the thieves — is that the tablets have no value to anyone who isn’t a cab driver.

Encrypted software has been installed on all of the devices, according to Friedman. Which means they “cannot be reused” by the culprit, and are much less appealing to pawn shops or resale websites.

“They are worthless outside of a taxicab,” Friedman said.

About 600 tablets are currently in use by Get-a-Cab vehicles. Although the introduction of these devices occurred around the same time as the strategic partnership between the Get-a-Cab, PHL Taxi, and Freedom Taxi companies, Friedman said the tablets “are only found in 215 Get a Cab vehicles, no other taxis.”

In order to protect their still-brand new devices, cab drivers are being told to take them out of the car with them when they finish work.

Per Friedman, drivers are being instructed to disconnect the tablets and “store them safely when cabs are not in use.”

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