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'Taxi of Tomorrow' Design Debuts to Public

By Mary Johnson | November 1, 2011 6:30pm
Visitors were invited to sign the wall of the "Taxi of Tomorrow" after they stepped out of it.
Visitors were invited to sign the wall of the "Taxi of Tomorrow" after they stepped out of it.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

FLATIRON — The public got its first look at the preliminary interior design of the so-called “Taxi of Tomorrow” near Madison Square Park Tuesday.

At the free exhibit, visitors were invited to sit down in the simulated back seat of the soon-to-be Nissan NV200, which beat out designs from Ford and Turkish automaker Karsan in a contest to decide which vehicle would populate New York City’s 13,000-strong fleet of taxis.

As the design currently stands, the NV200 will include a panoramic roof, a USB charging outlet, a 12-volt plug and flat flooring with no center hump.

There was plenty of leg room inside the model, which played a one-minute video meant to replicate an actual journey around Manhattan in the back of a yellow cab. And when the vehicle is manufactured, it will include passenger-controlled heating and cooling, as well as anti-microbial and environmentally friendly upholstery.

The 'Taxi of Tomorrow' will be on display through Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011.
The 'Taxi of Tomorrow' will be on display through Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

“Our design team really took advantage of some of the feedback we got from the citizens here,” said Joe Castelli, a vice president at Nissan North America.

“[The taxi] is a very iconic piece that is a way of life here,” Castelli added. “This is ingrained into the threads of New York City.”

Nissan won the chance to design a vehicle for New York City’s taxi fleet back in May. The first NV200 will not be delivered to the city until 2013, and a completed model will not be ready until spring 2012.

But the new design has already been plagued by controversy because it is not handicap accessible.

“This is actually the vehicle that the [Taxi and Limousine Comission] asked us to provide,” Castelli explained.

He explained that the TLC had planned on commissioning a separate design for new handicap-accessible vehicles. Nissan would welcome the opportunity to bid for that job, he added, but the TLC has not yet requested.

In lieu of a formal request, Castelli said his design team added amenities that would make the new taxi easier to enter and exit, such as flat interior flooring and an exterior step to help passengers get in and out.

In addition, the NV200 can be modified to accommodate wheelchairs, Castelli said, noting that change would come with a cost.

In response to the proposed disparity in taxi access, several disability rights organizations have filed suit against the city, claiming that its current policy of not requiring all cabs to be handicap accessible violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That suit has reportedly gained the support of local elected officials, including Assemblyman Micah Kellner, and the U.S. Justice Department.

On Tuesday, however, response to the “Taxi of Tomorrow” was mostly positive.

Ryan DeJong, 29, who checked out the model with his co-worker, Molly Southern, 24, said the accessibility additions included in the new design, such as the outside step and the flat flooring, were a marked improvement over the cabs currently in the fleet.

“You can’t get into the Crown Victoria if you’re handicapped," he said of one of the current fleet's models. "You can’t even get into it if you’re elderly."

“It’s a nice in-between from what we have currently,” Southern added.

DeJong, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, added that his aunt is paralyzed and arranges her own transportation because it’s easier than waiting for one of the few existing ADA-compliant taxis when she comes to the city.  

Several people at the exhibit on Tuesday commented on the view offered by the panoramic roof and the perk of being able to charge a cell phone or a laptop during a cab ride.

“Oh, it’s very relaxing,” said Sharon Kaufman, 58, as she stepped out of the display model. “You forget that you’re in the taxi.”

Kaufman, from Astoria, doesn’t take taxis often because her experience is always one of “horror,” she said matter-of-factly. “They’re always in a rush to go nowhere.”

Although this new taxi didn’t promise to cure chaotic driving, Kaufman said she was hopeful that a more peaceful interior could make for a more pleasant ride.

Despite the prevalence of happy virtual-passengers on Tuesday, there were some who had reservations about the new design. 

Raymond Monette, 38, was disappointed to see that the new taxi won’t be outfitted with electric engines.

“We already have some electric vehicles, so I’m not sure why they wouldn’t force it to apply to these vehicles,” said the Brooklyn resident.

Eric Bruzaitis, 42, a graduate student studying urban planning at Brooklyn College, was curious to see what the new design had to offer — but found himself worrying about the snug backseat and the limited amount of space available for luggage.

The whole experience made him long for the days of the checkered cab, he said.

“The checkers were great, not just because they look great,” Bruzaitis said. “They were roomy. You could fit five people in them. It had the rumble seat. The trunks were huge.”

He suggested that the checkers could be refitted with modern engines, blending the old with the new.

“It’s not going to happen,” he conceded with a smile, “but the checkers were fantastic.”

The new NV200 will be on display at Fifth Avenue and Broadway through Saturday, Nov. 5.