Why Don’t More Professional Drivers Use Traffic-Enabled GPS?

(Photo: Michael Sheehan)

A couple years ago, when I first noticed the ability to overlay a traffic report on Google Maps on my iPhone, I assumed that the world of drivers — especially people who drive for a living — would take it up very quickly. In a place like New York, choosing a free-flowing route versus a congested route might save you 30 or even 60 minutes on an airport trip.

But I seem to have been quite wrong. In most instances when I take a taxi or hired car to/from an airport, the driver doesn’t check any kind of device to see where traffic is heavy and where it’s light, even though smartphones with map and traffic apps have exploded in the last couple of years. Once in a while, he’ll tune in to the all-news radio station to get a spotty traffic update.

Therefore, I usually now check my traffic app as soon as I get in the car to see what routes are looking good and which are looking bad, and then relay that info to the driver. Why don’t more professional drivers use traffic-enabled GPS?

Here are a few guesses:

  • Taking the same old route is a habit, and habits die hard.
  • Maybe they think the technology isn’t very good (it certainly isn’t flawless) and it’s just not worth messing with.
  • Maybe the kind of driver who would use a traffic app is a more enterprising worker than average, and more enterprising workers don’t want to drive for a living.
  • Maybe drivers don’t have a strong incentive to speed things up — if, for instance, they’re being paid by the hour (but often they are not).

What am I missing? What do you think? 


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  1. Mike says:

    Maybe drivers don’t want to argue with passengers who insist the driver take a particular route. If a driver suggested a route to me that he claimed was “faster” but I knew the route to clearly be longer, I’d assume he was padding the fare.

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  2. Dave says:

    If they’re getting paid by the mile, they could be accused of taking a longer detour for their own financial gain (even though they’d be savings loads of time for their customer). Who wants to fight that battle?

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    • Rob S says:

      In addition to this point, many cab fares are based on both mileage and time. Assuming cabbies want to maximize their fare, they could:
      1. Change the route, incur higher mileage fare, and get in an argument over mileage.
      2. Not change the route, incur higher time fare, and not get in an argument (because it’s expected).

      I think a good test/control would be to compare cabbies against chartered cars working on a fixed fee.

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  3. Jared says:

    I’m sure they think they know better than the GPS. Whether they do or not is unclear

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    • John says:

      I think this is a strong possibility. When I was on vacation recently I got directions from locals and compared that to what my phone recommended and usually the locals route was the second or third route on Google Maps recommendation.

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    • J1 says:

      In a confined area they know well with communication from other drivers about traffic conditions, drivers probably know at least what the GPS knows. The GPS also my simply be incorrect about the fastest way to get there.

      “I usually now check my traffic app as soon as I get in the car to see what routes are looking good and which are looking bad, and then relay that info to the driver”

      Did he ask you if you wanted to go to Leapin’ Larry’s?

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  4. Selin Nas says:

    If they know without checking the traffic app which roads have a heavy traffic and which don’t out of experience (not out of habit in this case), then they won’t need the app. They may know which roads get heavy traffic at which hours, because they travel them frequently and for a long time.

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    • Brian says:

      From my experience, a traffic app is superior to even the experienced driver. They simply can’t predict road accidents or fluctating road conditions as well as an app monitors them in real-time

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  5. Drew McManus says:

    I’ve had a couple of Uber drivers do this. I would say it is safe to hypothesize that Uber drivers are the more tech-savvy drivers…

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  6. Graham Brown says:

    Having been a professional driver, one thing I’ve noticed that people don’t understand is how tiring the job is, especially in a city. The constant processing of low-level information kind of cooks your brain. It’s not conducive to rationality (think about road-rage), or constantly fiddling around with devices.

    Not the most logical behavior, but then driving around a big city all day (my experience was in London) has a way of battering our logic circuits.

    Or maybe they just enjoy your company.

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  7. Ofir says:

    I suspect professional drivers who drive in a limited region (e.g. NYC) have much more experience than us mere humans. Making the utility of such applications limited for them. E.g. currently these applications usually have some delay in reacting to forming congestions, especially during rush hours, which anyone with experience can foresee.

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  8. Robert says:

    Maybe it’s not worth the perceived risk of taking your eyes off the road in NYC traffic to plug in every destination. Also, airport trips are flat-rate, so the incentives are skewed. It would be interesting to see whether driver behavior varies from day to night, when it costs more for a driver to rent a cab because he’s likely to earn more from higher demand.

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