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City unveils Taxi of Tomorrow finalists

by Benjamin Kabak

The Karsan taxi was designed specifically for this project. (Read more at CityRoom)

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?

The Ford Transit Connect is seemingly the tallest of the finalists.

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.

Nissan's taxi could feature an electric propulsion system.

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Dave November 16, 2010 - 5:46 pm

Even though these might look large in these photos, in context, they’re actually quite smaller than the Crown Vics that they replace. Compare the length of 180.7 inches of the TransitConnect or 173.2 inches of the Nissan NV200 to the 212 inch length of the Crown.

Alon Levy November 16, 2010 - 9:35 pm

It’s not just about length – presumably, a vehicle specifically configured as a taxi would be built to have a lot of passenger comfort for a given length. I’m not even sure London cabs are that long.

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Andrew November 17, 2010 - 12:20 am

ADA doesn’t require wheelchair accessibility?

Joe November 17, 2010 - 12:37 am

I don’t know if I looked at the correct sections of ADA, but it doesn’t seem like wheelchair accessibility is required for taxis. It doesn’t suggest that taxis need to be compliant, the tricky thing is that as NYC Taxis are regulated by NYCT&LC, but I don’t know if the level of regulation meets the standards that trigger ADA.

Nathanael November 19, 2010 - 4:22 am

“Its entry, the V1, is the only finalist that is fully accessible to passengers in wheelchairs,”

This is the only *reasonable* choice.

But yeah, legally, taxis aren’t required to be ADA-compliant as long as federal money isn’t being spent on them. When federal money is spent on them, then they become subject to Rehabilitation Act requirements, which are very similar to ADA.

Max S. (WilletsPoint-SheaStadium) November 17, 2010 - 10:58 am

“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 thing is, looking down on the streets from a rooftop, there is definitely a clear difference between the sizes of cabs and other vehicles on the road. When looking just at cabs, the biggest by far are the masses of yellow Crown Vics that paddle their way down the avenues like oversize boats.

YankeeEsq December 3, 2010 - 12:11 pm

While the ADA exempts taxis in the first instance, this is not the whole story. Taxis themselves are exempted, and individual taxi companies are to an extent (they are somewhat required to provide an alternative system). However, because the City has created an exhaustive system, and is choosing to condition licensing medallions to use of specific cars, I would assert that the City is in fact subject to the ADA Title II and has to provide “meaningful access”. If tested in the courts, I do not think the City’s current 311 demand system would survive. Non-disabled travelers can simply walk out the door and get a taxi while wheelchair users need to call 311 and wait sometimes for hours. What number of the taxis need to be accessible under a meaningful access, most integrated standard is unclear, it wold need to be large enough so that wheelchair users can go to the curb and flag a taxi in approximately the same time as other New Yorkers. Is that all, or half, I don’t know, but it would need to be a high percentage.

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