After a lengthy RFP process, the City of New York unveiled its three finalists for its Taxi of Tomorrow contest yesterday. Designs from Karsan, Nissan and Ford that evoke the boxier history of the city’s long-gone checkers will be battling it out to earn the exclusive right to build out and service a new fleet of New York City taxicabs. No longer will Crown Victorias and a fleet of yellow hybrids roam the streets of city looking for fares.
“We are going to create a new taxi for our City that is safer, greener and more comfortable than the ones we have today,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference.
“Taxis are the icon of our shared urban landscape, and for more than five years the Design Trust and Taxi and Limousine Commission have enjoyed an enormously productive collaboration to improve that icon, culminating in the Taxi of Tomorrow,” Deborah Marton, executive director of the Design Trust for Public Space, a project partner, said. “This project is about much more than getting from point A to point B – the Design Trust and Taxi and Limousine Commission are pioneering an accessible, sustainable, beautiful taxi that New Yorkers deserve. No other city has tried to do this, and we want to make sure every New Yorker has a chance to weigh in and be part of this historic event.”
Right now, the city is hosting a public comment period focused around the new Taxi of Tomorrow website. New York City residents have been asked to participate in a survey about taxis. What parts of the taxi experience need to be improved? How should the city’s taxi of tomorrow incorporate technological innovation, passenger space and environmental concerns?
While London has long relied upon a custom-made taxicab, for New York, this attempt at homogeneity is a first. “Cars that are durable enough to be mass-produced are often not durable enough to be a New York City taxi,” Taxi and Limousine Commission head David Yassky said.
Michael Grynbaum, meanwhile, has more from the unveiling:
All three competing designs, submitted by Ford, Nissan and the Turkish manufacturer Karsan, have the bulky appearance of a minivan. Gone is the cramped legroom of a hybrid car: these interiors feature generously sized backseats and, in Karsan’s case, a rear-facing drop seat to encourage conversation among passengers (that, or motion sickness). The winner of the contest will receive the exclusive right to supply the cabs for the city’s fleet of just over 13,000 taxis for at least a decade. Taxi officials said the contract could have an overall potential value of $1 billion…
Ford’s entry, the Transit Connect, is a customized version of a vehicle already on the market, and Mr. Yassky said the submission benefited from Ford’s history of reliable service with the city. A design by Nissan’s North American branch, based on the company’s NV200 van, featured the most legroom and the potential for an entirely electric propulsion system.
Karsan, which builds cars for Fiat and Hyundai, submitted a design that was entirely original for the project. Its entry, the V1, is the only finalist that is fully accessible to passengers in wheelchairs, and the car could potentially include wireless Internet access. Four other submissions were rejected by the city, including a design from General Motors.
Initially, the reaction from taxi officials and city politicians has not been an embracing one. Assembly representative Micah Kellner noted how wheelchair accessibility is “only an option for the winning design, not a requirement.” Bhairavi Desai of the Taxi Workers Alliance bemoaned the focus on the car instead of the driver. “If there is money to be spent, we think it should go to improve the working conditions before it goes to beautify the vehicle,” she said.
Even the city itself isn’t sold on the need to replace its current fleet. Despite the lengthy process, New York will pick a new car only if it up to standards. “Each is promising, but none is perfect,” Bloomberg said “We are not obliged to go with anything if it does not meet our needs.”
The pictures — Karsan, Nissan, Ford — are alluring, but the designs are boring. The cars are almost too square and not very sleek, and while the bigger size will make traveling in packs more convenient, they’ll also take up more space on the roads. The vast majority of trips don’t require a car with so much extra room. But as long as the new taxis — vehicles The City Fix recently called next frontier of sustainable transportation — are as fuel-efficient as the hybrids they’ll be replacing, the city is at least on the right track here.