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You Can Take Your Fingers Out of Your Ears: Quieter Taxi TV

In a city filled with blaring ambient noise, the back seat of a taxi serves as a poor refuge: from the moment the meter starts running, so does Taxi TV.

But passengers seeking it are getting some relief: the two major software providers of Taxi TV technology, Creative Mobile Technologies and VeriFone Media, have taken several steps designed for a quieter ride.

In some taxis, the default volume has been lowered, and the volume button has been relocated; passengers will also get a quick tutorial on how to lower the volume or mute it altogether. And now, for the first time, passengers can even silence the introduction video that plays before the regular Taxi TV programming begins.

For many passengers, the changes are long overdue: in a recent survey of 22,000 riders, 31 percent said the televisions were the worst element of the ride. Cabbies also welcomed the changes, even if they cannot hit the mute button themselves.

“All day we hear it, same thing all day,” said Ghayyur Abbas, 34, a taxi driver who on a recent night blared Rihanna at an even higher volume to block out jokes that the comedian Jimmy Kimmel was making on Taxi TV. Mr. Abbas said he dreaded the coming weeks, when Taxi TV would start running a chorus of holiday-themed jingles: “Halloween is coming. Then it’s going to start. Then Christmas.”

The full battery of changes has been introduced in roughly half of the taxis on the streets, with the rest getting some of the features. And as winter sets in and more riders roll up their windows, one of the software companies plans to lower the volume another notch.

While the changes may seem barely audible to some riders, they represent a compromise after plenty of negotiations.

“We’ve had to balance the interests of the advertisers and the passengers and the drivers,” said Jesse Davis, president of Creative Mobile Technologies, which has its televisions in 6,600 city taxis, roughly half of the fleet, with VeriFone providing service in the rest. “The advertiser or content provider wants the sound as loud as possible. The drivers, for the most part, would rather not hear it.”

New Yorkers who are often fairly tolerant of noise in other parts of their lives have long complained about it in taxis. Passengers griped after the city introduced, in 1997, announcements by celebrities asking passengers to buckle their seat belts; some even refused to buckle up in defiance. The Taxi and Limousine Commission ended the announcements in 2003.

That same year, the commission tried a pilot program of Taxi TV but quickly halted it. Since 2007, though — when New York became the first major city to require that cabs have televisions — the agency has received a steady stream of complaints.

With those passengers in mind, software companies have been trying to make subtle changes that will not anger advertisers. At Creative Mobile Technologies’ headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, which sits above a taxi garage, the company’s executive vice president for media sales, Tom Haymond, walked through a room filled with the old and new technology.

The updated televisions say in their introduction, “To raise the volume, touch ‘volume,’ ” and show riders how to mute the sound. The company also moved the volume control from the top of the screen to the bottom and labeled it “Volume,” while lowering the default volume to 33 percent of the maximum sound, from 40 percent.

Mr. Haymond said customers seemed to be happier with the quieter televisions. He found that on a recent Tuesday, 4.6 percent of riders in taxis with the newer technology muted the sound, compared with 13 percent of riders in taxis with the older technology.

It was not yet clear if taxi drivers had noticed a difference. Ossman Ali, a cabby for the past 21 years, said he did not mind the sound. But as Mr. Ali sat in the front seat and a television with the updated technology played in the back, it was hard to conduct a conversation over a Taxi TV interview with the actress Jane Krakowski. It was not much quieter with his partition closed.

But Mr. Ali said he was willing to tolerate the televisions because his taxi income helped him put his three children through college.

“I do like to hear some news sometimes,” he said. “But I’m not out here for news. I’m out here to make money.”