Four years ago, New York City officials convened a group of taxi drivers, owners and passengers, to create a set of goals for the next New York City taxi cab, a project called the Taxi of Tomorrow.
A collaboration between the Design Trust for Public Space and the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission, the Taxi of Tomorrow initiative was claimed to be a complete re-imagining of the entire taxi system.
In December 2009, auto makers and designers were invited and designers to submit their ideas for a purpose-built vehicle to serve as a New York City taxicab. At the end of the evaluation process in May, 2011, the Nissan NV200 was selected from three finalists (Ford and Turkish manufacturer Karsan were the other finalists) as the New York City taxicab for ten years, beginning in 2013.
The Nissan "Taxi of Tomorrow" Design Expo opens to the public today (November 1) for five days to enable New York's 600,000 daily taxi passengers to see what they're going to be driven in.
The key features of the NV200 Taxi design which won the day are from what you'd expect of a vehicle being wildly trumpeted as the Taxi-of-Tomorrow.
There's enough cargo area to accommodate luggage for four passengers (something the average sedan does not), a transparent roof panel for site-seeing, sliding doors with entry step and grab handles for easy entry and exit, USB charging points for passenger electronics, passenger controlled rear-seat climate control, a flat floor (no drive-train hump), and improved interior materials for fresher smell and easier cleaning. That's it. No electric drive-train, not even a Wi-Fi hotspot.
How did it take so long to come up with such an ordinary result? Four whole years!
The selection process appears to have been a very difficult and political one, as the Ford and Karsan entries looked particularly compelling. Indeed, the lack of transparency involved in the process and the questionable result are the type of process which makes it understandable why American business and government are perceived as less-than-honest by the global community.
Now before you take exception to the above remark, check out the Transparency International Global Perceptions Index. Coming in 22nd place from 184 countries might sound like a reasonable result, but with a score of 7.1 (out of ten) for its transparency (honesty), America ranks behind Barbados, Qatar and Chile, and only marginally ahead of Uruguay, Estonia, Slovenia, Botswana and Puerto Rico.
All three finalists in the Taxi of Tomorrow were based on vans instead of the traditional sedan design which might be suitable as an average family car, but has long prevented taxis from being nearly as useful as they could be for a public that wants to get groups of people and their stuff from point A to Point B most effectively.
The Karsan design was supposedly passed over based on doubts as to whether Karsan could "execute the project". This is clearly a great shame, as the Karsan design appears at least in my opinion, to be superior to the NV200 design which is pretty much the same basic van you see anywhere in the world, with a few minor revisions.
The Karsan design also offered wheelchair and pram access, and would have been built in New York, both considerations that would have given it a significant advantage over the Ford (to be built in Turkey had it won) and the Nissan which will be built in Cuernavaca and Aguascalientes in Mexico. The Nissan does not offer wheelchair access. Indeed, given that America is a country with a large number of combat veterans and other wheelchair users, the decision to dispense with wheelchair access in the Taxi of Tomorrow is beyond comprehension.
The decision drew a law suit from the United Spinal Association for choosing an inaccessible "taxi of tomorrow" and it appears that if the city does not mandate a wheelchair accessible taxi it will be in violation of the Americans With Disabilites Act. The lack of transparency has been compounded by some very unfortunate remarks by New York Mayor Bloomberg demonstrating his ignorance of the plight of those without full use of their limbs.
If the decision to include wheelchair access in the taxi of tomorrow is not reversed, New York's disabled will continue to have to contend with just 231 of the city's 13,000 taxis being accessible to wheelchair users. It should be noted that London's taxis are ALL wheelchair accessible. Any thoughts that we now live in a civilized society are obviously premature.
The Taxi of Tomorrow will be powered by a 2.0 liter internal combustion engine. Although a fully electric version of the Nissan NV2000 is expected to be available by 2017, Ford's Transit Connect is available in fully electric form NOW and it also offers mobile hotspot capabilities. Surely such facility would have truly lived up to the grandiose title of the Taxi of Tomorrow. As things stand, Nissan will sponsor a pilot program with six Nissan Leaf electric cars and charging stations in 2012, that will be deployed to study the use of zero-emission electric vehicles as taxis. The Leafs will be evaluated in the year prior to the NV200s taxi introduction.
This is of course, a complete "crock" - Nissan has been evaluating the capabilities of electric cars in Japan for many years. It already knows that a Nissan LEAF will run for about half of the 150 miles a cab covers in an average shift. What are they attempting to prove by trialling an inappropriate vehicle design with an electric drive-train?
There is an enormous irony in all this.
New York had a fleet of more than 1000 electric taxis. Sure there were problems, but nothing some good ol' human ingenuity couldn't fix. This article from the Atlantic nicely covers the all-electric transport system that almost was.
Indeed, the more I look at what has been achieved, the more I think the Taxi of Tomorrow should be called the Taxi Designed By Committee. If there was indeed any intention to reimagine the taxi system, why wasn't electricity considered as the motive force. Nissan and its French connection with Renault make it a global leader in EV technology. Bloomberg tells the world he's an advocate of EVs in general and EV taxis in particular, yet all we have to show for all that time and all that effort are a few extra grab handles and a panoramic roof.
As the Taxi of Tomorrow stands, it will be a slightly modified compact commercial vehicle almost identical to those currently available in Japan, Europe and China. A bunch of primary school children could have arrived at a better result than this inside ten minutes.
The Nissan 'Taxi of Tomorrow' Design Expo is located on the pedestrian plaza across from the Flatiron building at Broadway and Fifth Avenue, and will be open to the public on Tuesday, Nov. 1, noon-9 p.m.; Wednesday, Nov. 2 through Friday, Nov. 4, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; and, Saturday, Nov. 5, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.