CHELSEA — The fully equipped "Taxi of Tomorrow" made its debut Tuesday night, rolling out a slew of new features designed to give passengers a safer, more pleasant experience.
Nissan's NV200, which was chosen over designs from both Ford and Turkish automaker Karsan, will include overhead reading lights in the back seat and floor illumination to help passengers keep track of their belongings.
A “low-annoyance” horn was designed to replace the standard, jarring honk of existing cabs. GPS navigation and back-up cameras will be included in all the vehicles. The upholstery will be made of antimicrobial fabric, and the driver’s seat earned praise for being extra comfortable.
The plan is to phase the NV200 into New York City's fleet of some 13,000 cabs beginning next year. Over the next decade, drivers will be required to purchase the NV200 once their existing vehicles wear out.
But the new cab, which became embroiled in controversy last year because it is not accessible to people with disabilities, received mixed reviews Tuesday night.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among those singing the NV200’s praises.
“For the first time, our city will have a cab that was designed for those who matter most, the passengers and our hardworking drivers,” Bloomberg said.
“I look forward to seeing this great vehicle becoming the new icon of New York City.”
Several veteran taxi drivers also praised the look and design of the new cab.
“This is beautiful. I love this,” said Berisford Simmons, 64, a taxi driver for the past 40 years, as he ran his hand across the NV200.
“Nissan paid attention to us. Before they put it together, they consulted us.”
But Simmons still had a few bones to pick with the NV200.
Currently, he drives a handicap-accessible Dodge Caravan that has been retrofitted to transport one person in a wheelchair, along with three other passengers.
Although Nissan is planning to make a handicap-accessible version of the NV200, it will only be able to accommodate one wheelchair and one other passenger at a time, Simmons explained. That will likely be an inconvenience for those in wheelchairs who want to travel with more than just one other person.
Several disability-rights activists gathered outside the event Tuesday to protest that lack of universal accessibility.
“We want a ride,” said Jean Ryan, of Disabled in Action, carrying a placard denouncing the Taxi of Tomorrow.
“Our point is segregation was abolished in schools in, what, the early '50s?” she continued. “And there should be no segregation in taxis.”
Advocate Ronnie Raymond agreed, carrying a sign proclaiming that “all taxis should be accessible."
"It is interesting that when they plan something like this, they don’t invite any disabled people at all,” Raymond said. "It’s sad."
Complaints about the NV200 went beyond the issue of accessibility.
Mohan Singh, 55, a cab driver and member of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said he was concerned that the sunroof on the NV200, which is meant to give passengers a better view of the city, will create one more spot for drivers to keep tidy.
A dirty sunroof could affect tips, he added, “because they think the car is not clean.”
Singh also worried about the cost of the vehicle — about $29,700 — and the fact that it is being manufactured by a foreign company instead of an American one. And when it comes to fuel efficiency, Singh said his Ford Escape would beat the NV200 by a long shot.
“This one is an ordinary car. It’s working on gas,” Singh said, pointing to the NV200. “The hybrid is much better than this.”
Nissan and the city are working on a pilot program to gauge the potential for electric taxis, and the automaker is providing six, 100-percent electric vehicles to the city as part of that project. However, a long-term plan to create a more fuel-efficient fleet has not yet been solidified.
Mark Izeman, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York, wrote in a recent blog post that he worries “the promise of New York City’s taxi program as a sustainable leader may be fading” because of the introduction of the gas-powered NV200.
“Still, we remain hopeful that in their remaining negotiations, the city and Nissan can still find a way to ensure that the final agreement offers a path forward to cabs that are class leaders in low emissions and fuel-efficiency.”