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? 



Even if the cab is a flat fare or per mile, Time is $. The odometer doesn't turn as fast in stop and go traffic. A flat fare Much like a restaurant table, benefits from quicker turn over.
I think all it would take is a few early adopters bragging about how their bottom line improved by keeping the wheels of the cab turning faster.


I use the traffic feature on Google maps all the time. I find it to be hit-or-miss.

One inherent problem I see is that it's a reactive system. You'll only find out that traffic is bad when it's too late, ie. when you've already picked your route and are on the road. The system doesn't update quickly enough when conditions change, so twenty minutes into your trip that traffic free road you found could be a parking lot.

What we need is a predictive model. Surely Google and other mapping systems could track the trends of accidents over time and predict which roads will be better at certain times of day or days of the week.

Another issue is that often commercial drivers are driving with certain constraints, e.g. minimize bridge tolls, that they are limited in the routes they can take. Also, taxi drivers don't necessarily want the shortest route they want the most profitable route. If they drive straight into a traffic jam, they've got you locked up for an extra 15-30 minutes. That's time they don't need to be looking for other fares or driving around without a fare.



I have often wondered the same thing. The latest car GPS that I purchased has traffic updates. Since many professional drivers use GPS and I have even seen the same line that I have, I wonder why they don't spend the little extra to get traffic updates.


Probably,the Ease of using a radio than a complicated touch screen gps devices.


I take flat rate cabs from a NYC suburb to and from LaGuardia & JFK frequently. The routes the drivers take to and from the airports are as varied as the number of drivers. Clearly, some learning went on at some point, but, it seems to me, that the learning ossifies and the drivers stick with their perceived best route. It's odd, because I use the same cab company all the time and the best routes differ between drivers, so there is either little information sharing or limited willingness to try new things. You would think that an additional input overlaid on the knowledge of daily traffic patterns would be helpful, but ...

Andrew Hertz

If I'm not mistaken, taxi drivers get paid for time they sit in traffic. I don't know if that works out to more than if they were able to offload and pick up a new passenger more quickly, but it certainly pays more than if they off load you faster and sat empty for the equivalent period of time.

I believe the hired car is different because they get paid for the trip, not based upon time or distance. So I would think they would have an incentive to get you there faster to free them up for another run.


I think your third guess is a large part of it. People who are quick to adopt new technologies and learn new things are not likely to be "professional drivers".

Steve Edwards

I think there's another point in hand here - pride. In London, Hackney (traditional London black can) drivers spend a number of years learning 'the knowledge' - a complete understanding of all major locations and routes. Putting a satnav in such a car removes that historical pride and also potentially (and probably absurdly) throws doubts (from the passenger's perspective) on the professionalism of the driver. "He doesn't even know where he's going!" whilst, in reality, this would remove any accusations of "going the long way" to bump up the fare.


How about we professionals on the road know traffic patterns and leave early? I love the GPS but I hate constantly referring to it when a simple radio update can giver what I need.

Luigi Cappel

I have been using real time traffic since it became available in New Zealand and Australia. It is extremely good and as someone who spends a lot of time on the road I have learned two things:
1. When it is done well, with excellent data, such as TomTom has in New Zealand, it is brilliant.
2. When you think the nav is wrong, most of the time it isn't.

If your time is valuable and you spend a lot of time driving to meetings, get a nav unit with traffic, but note, just because a device says it has traffic, doesn't mean it is good information, the volume and quality of the source data is really important. So is the mechanism that sorts the big data and interprets it.

As to the comments about cab drivers, I have had so many try to rip me off, all over the world, trying to get a few extra bucks. The answer is to use your nav and settings and tell them to follow it, or you won't use them.



Professional drivers think they are professional by not using devices!


Do you have a chance to use small companies to see if there is a difference? I travel a lot and my experience with all the big companies is the same as yours; the company/ drivers just don't seem worried. My impression is that regardless of how they get paid the drivers don't have much incentive for speed since they have a predetermined list of jobs for the day, and the time gaps between each are wide. As long as they don't miss the next pickup they have no incentive to get you to your destination any faster (except perhaps if you're the last dropoff).

My only contrary experience is with small businesses. My parents live in a very rural part of England and when I visit I always use a local company that has only two owner/drivers. They have had traffic equipped GPS for almost 15 years and rely on it when navigating around London. The only time I've ever seen it in the US is once in San Diego when I used a "boutique" company that was using electric and hybrid vehicles and advertised mainly on their green policies.



As a former professional driver I get a lot of fun out of beating GPS recommendations (although I have to admit I don't always win) these days.

GPS has to consider the average driver - or perhaps even the lowest common denominator - when calculating transit times.

A pro can knock 10-15% off a transit time (source: Myth Busters), largely by lane-swapping.

The pro can also make their own assessment of whether slowdowns and blockages ahead will still be in place when they reach the scene.

But yeah those cabbies could be just hiking the meter.


Actually, the 'which route is better' is just one special case of a much broader decision making problem - a problem that could potentially be the next google. one version of the idea is explained here -



Using GPS may undermine the drive's capability/credibility. I've noticed when taking a cab in Eugene, OR that cab drivers who used GPS frequently were newbies to either the industry or the local area. Even when one cab driver uses the GPS to check for traffic, he/she may also be taken as using the device for directions, which in turn downgrades his/her own knowledge of local streets. Whereas listening to traffic updates on all-news radio station will be no more than just traffic updates and news. These two things do not hamper their reputation. (But do cab drivers really need reputation? may be yes for certain individuals)

This is my pop-up thought!


I work for a GPS Tracking company, and two big things we run into are;

1) The Data is only 90% accurate. Much of the traffic data is pretty good. Many cities have highway sensors, but sometimes that data gets delayed or skewed. That 10% is what people remember. So until we get closer to 99%. I think we'll have a tough sell on traffic data.

2) Replacement. Many seasoned drivers are worried that if the tools make it so anyone can do the job then experience in the driver's seat means little. I know it's not a skilled profession but Everyone knows that we like to think that there is a reason that, "I've been a driver for X years" that we really want that X to mean something.