The New Zealand Herald

TAXI Image Catching a Cab to Cyberspace

By Nigel Horrocks

Since the local taxi industry was de-regulated, many of us have at least one horror story. It's often a frightening ride late at night with a driver who has trouble communicating or can't speak English, the car going in the opposite direction to the stated destination and a driver who is either drunk or suffering from working too many hours beyond the regulated limit.

At least the typically mad ride in a New York cab is usually accompanied with an assurance the driver knows the route and enough patience to cope with the mad traffic without going quite as far as killing anyone.

None of that beats the ride you can take in Aspen, Colorado. In his 1979 Checker cab Jon Barnes knows how to make the journey safe. Until recently, he had in the car a telescope so that passengers could watch for alien arrivals .After all, it is not just independence day that they could attack. Now Jon has discovered another toy- the net.

So his car is equipped with a digital camera, laptop and modem. He takes photos of his passengers and beams them immediately to his web site for the world to see who is riding in his cab. You can even send him email. He promises he pulls over to the side and stops if he wants to hit the keyboard for a reply.

In the boot sits a printer powered from a battery that jostles for room amid the spare tyre, a mobile souvenir shop and , in case there are any younger passengers, a toy store of sorts.

If that's not enough, he has also added two cell phones, a big sound system, nine lasers, fibre-optic lightning, neon, black lights, a mirror ball and dry ice fog effects to make you fantasise that you are really in a top Los Angeles nightclub visit. If you don't want to listen to albums on the way, there's a portable keyboard, digital drums and a mini recording studio with a four track mixer so you can make your own records or you could ask to watch Barnes jam while driving with his elbows.

Barnes has been driving for ten years and started adding gadgets to break the monotony of the times when he would have no passengers. He is so enthused about the potential of the net, he is hoping to add a live camera into his cab to enable the wired world to see where he is at any time.

You can take a virtual ride at here and see photos of some of his past passengers including 007 Pierce Brosman, Clint Eastwood and Jerry Seinfield.

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