Coming Soon to a Cab Near You: Vending Machines?

A modernized vending machine for taxis and bars is preparing for launch in New York.

Only in New York, says the Manhattanite getting a condom from a vending machine in a taxi cab.

Welcome to the era of TaxiTreats — a touchscreen, credit-card only vending machine that may someday soon offer cab passengers everything from energy drinks, hand sanitizer, mints and gum, pain relievers, and prophylactics.

The idea got legs last spring at the Next Idea initiative governed by the city's Economic Development Corporation. TaxiTreats won $17,500 in seed money and half a year of office space in the city. (An idea called Stylsize, which helps online shoppers guess how clothes will fit, also earned a top award.)

Last week, EDC announced that TaxiTreats has parlayed that seed money into $1 million in angel funding from investors including The Richport Group, which is chaired by pop singer Marc Anthony. TaxiTreats CEO Brian Shimmerlik, an MBA candidate at New York University's Stern School of Business, told the ECD site last fall:

There is a gap between today’s technological advances and the daily requirements of traveling around NYC, and those of many other cities around the world. There is not enough value delivered to and derived from commuters. NYC residents want to maximize the effectiveness of their time.

TaxiTreats is the latest attempt to capitalize on the captive nature of most urban travelers. Last spring, the online grocer Peapod introduced virtual shopping aisles on train platforms in Philadelphia. That idea mimicked successful transit-related commercial efforts from other retailers in South Korea and Australia.

Shimmerlik believes the taxi vending machine will generate considerable revenue for the city and fleet owners. The tech site BetaBeat has reported the cost of installing a machine at $2,000 — just about what it costs to install the ubiquitous Taxi TV's inside each yellow cab in the city. In fact, the original idea with TaxiTreats was to mount the machine beside the video screen.

There's still the slight problem of approval by the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission. When TaxiTreats first earned its EDC award, taxi commissioner David Yassky said he wasn't sure vending machines were something that would ever make their way into New York cabs. The commission still hasn't signed off on the machines — with a spokesman praising the idea to the Huffington Post but remaining noncommittal.

Still Shimmerlik believes some cabbies will install the devices as early as this summer. According to the TaxiTreats website, the vending machine was designed by aerospace engineers, which means it should continue to dispense goodies if your cab goes airborne. (The concept was initially tied to the roll-out of New York's next-generation taxi, which will have more room in the backseat, though that effort remains imperiled by lawsuits.)

For now, TaxiTreats is debuting its vending machines — called Vengo — in select bars and restaurants throughout the city, beginning with the Village Pour House in the East Village. Vengo products might change depending on the location of the machines: in offices, for instance, they might vend USB cords or phone chargers, according to the New York Post.

Image: screenshot captured via the TaxiTreats page at angel.co.

About the Author