Do you find "Taxi TV" annoying? The Second Circuit does. Reversing a February 2018 decision of the District Court, the Second Circuit upheld New York City's ban on advertising in for-hire vehicles (e.g., Uber or Lyft).
The decision is the latest in a 2015 action filed by Vugo, Inc., which sells tablets that, when mounted to the back of the car's headrest, play video advertisements for riders (notably, without any ability to mute or turn off the screen). The Second Circuit, citing the City's "substantial interest in cultivating ‘esthetic values’ and preventing ‘undue annoyance,’” found that the ban, although content-based, did not run afoul of the First Amendment. This was despite the fact that the City has an exception for Taxi TV in its yellow (and green) cabs—which brings with it the ability to accept credit card payments and track fares, thus offsetting the cost to taxi owners of offering their customers these in-ride perks. As the Court noted, this exception neither rendered the ban ineffective nor failed to advance its interest, because one-third of daily TLC passenger trips—taken in for-hire vehicles—would still be "spared advertisements during their rides."
The most surprising part of this case, however, may be that only one third of riders reported finding Taxi TV annoying. Consider your feelings the next time you're stuck in midtown traffic.
The second prong of Central Hudson, however, asks us to evaluate the City’s asserted goal in enacting the regulation. Here, the City’s asserted goal is to protect its citizens from the offensive sight and sound of advertisements—not their content—while they are traveling through the city by car. That interest is clearly substantial. City governments have a substantial interest in cultivating esthetic values” and preventing undue annoyance.” Members of City Council of City of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U.S. 789, 805 (1984)...