Taxi of Tomorrow Faces Lawsuits of the Day After

michael vaughan
Globe and Mail Update
Published Tuesday, Apr. 10, 2012

The New York Auto Show, which winds up this weekend, featured the debut of New York’s Taxi of Tomorrow; and, of course, being New York, it was not without controversy.

After a multi-year selection process, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) decided to go with a version of Nissan’s smallest commercial van, the NV200 Taxi, as the next generation taxi for the Big Apple. Manhattan has the lowest per capita car ownership rate in the United States and has 600,000 daily taxi users. There are about 13,000 cabs in the city.

The Nissan has lots of advantages over the old Ford Crown Victoria, which is being phased out. Fuel economy and passenger comfort are high on the list. The Nissan has an efficient four-cylinder engine, dual sliding doors, a large glass sun roof and is roomy and comfortable. As an afterthought, Nissan has come up with a version that adds a ramp at the rear of the vehicle which, along with the removal of the rear seat, would allow wheelchair access.

That’s where the problem arises. Accessibility advocates argue that the entire taxi fleet should be useable by riders with wheelchairs and lawsuits are being prepared claiming that the Taxi of Tomorrow won’t meet the legal requirements for a fully accessible taxi system previously announced by New York’s governor and the state legislature. A federal judge also has ordered the TLC to come up with a plan for better access for wheelchair users.

The issue at hand applies here, too. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is going to require massive changes in making transportation services accessible. This includes public transit and taxis. One in seven people in Ontario has a disability, according to the provincial government, and that number will rise as the population ages.

Ontario municipalities are now required to determine the proportion of accessible taxis needed in their communities. In Toronto, it is expected that up to 20 per cent of all taxis will be required to be wheelchair-accessible with a built-in ramp; that could be up to 1,200 vehicles. Presently, there are a handful of converted minivans trying to do the job.

The Nissan NV200 Taxi (about $30,000 U.S. each) was given a gala launch by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The taxi also occupies centre stage at the Nissan stand on the main floor of the auto show. However, in the basement of the convention centre is a small display that is attracting lots of attention.

It’s the MV1. MV means Mobility Vehicle (about $40,000 U.S. each) and this is the first vehicle that was designed from the ground up for wheelchair accessibility. It’s a massive 5.2 metres long, weighs more than 2,200 kg, is V-8-powered and has a built-in ramp sloping gently up to a wide, tall door on the sidewalk-side of the vehicle. The MV1 can easily accommodate a wheelchair and even a mobility scooter.

I watched a delighted wheelchair-bound child drive his motorized chair up the ramp and right up front. He had a big smile on his face as he realized he could sit up front beside the driver with his chair securely fastened and not be relegated to the rear of the vehicle.

Nissan’s Taxi of Tomorrow is a huge improvement over the old hacks and no doubt will be well received by able-bodied passengers. They begin arriving in 2013 with about 4,000 units per year in a total contract that could be worth $1-billion. Nissan is making great progress with Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs), selling nearly 10 times as many as they did 10 years ago. Nissan has promised New York it will have an all-electric NV200 Taxi in 2017.

It’s great to see new concepts come to the taxi world. In New York we’ve seen two – which proves one size does not fit all. The winner was announced but the competition could be far from over.

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