Image via WikipediaFinally, New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC, not to be confused with the other acronym, a complete oxymoron when paired with New York taxi’s), as regulator of all things taxi and limo related, has published a shortlist of three new yellow-cab designs. Aiming to standardize the current mish-mash of permitted vehicle choices, many of which are not appreciated by regular Yellow Line users, they solicited proposals from leading motor vehicle manufacturers. A move also prompted by Ford’s decision to cease production of its venerable Crown Victoria sedan, the last of the big American rear-wheel drive sedans known for durability and endurance.
But first, a quick recap. November 2001 was a good month for riders of the “Yellow Line” (the rich man’s subway as we like to call it), as the TLC and Ford together announced “stretched” version of the Crown Vic, adding seven inches to the size of the chassis; six to the passenger and one for the driver (a nice “extension”, if ever there was one!). Four years later in 2005, the TLC decided that New Yorkers had had too much of a good thing so, despite initial concerns over reduced legroom in hybrid-electric vehicles, they approved the inclusion of all commercially-available hybrid models in the list of permitted vehicles. One-step forward, two steps back. Thanks.
Ralph Gardner, Jr. commenting in the Wall Street Journal recently said that riding in some of the current crop of taxis is comparable to being nailed into a coffin! Too right Ralphy. And let’s not forget the added piquancy, lingering on the nose, from the thousands of previous occupants and the cabbies lunch. The worst example being VW’s Jetta; rear seat leg room is awful and that’s before they install the safety barrier.
The three successful designs are from Ford, Nissan, and a Turkish company. Government Motors (GM) didn’t make the cut, no surprise there as they never listened to customers before so why start now. GM is basically an HMO (health plan) on wheels.
According to nyc.gov the winning proposal will be announced in early 2011 and the new vehicle will be on the road no later than the fall of 2014. Total fleet turnover will be gradual as older vehicles retire - New York City taxicabs are typically retired after three to five years of service. The City has 13,237 licensed taxicabs, including the world's largest fleet of fuel efficient taxicabs, with 3,983 hybrid, 5 Compressed Natural Gas, and 17 clean diesel taxi cabs. Today's taxi fleet is comprised of 16 different vehicles, supported by nine manufacturers. Which is ridiculous of course, fewer economic benefits result from such diversity.
The TLC Commish is asking New Yorkers to vote for features that are considered desirable, and has set up a web-site (at nyc.gov) where users can answer a simple set of questions and submit their responses. Obvious attractions like glass roofs for skyscraper gawking (for the tourists), chargers for cell phone users (fore those downtown Masters of the Universe), and improved handicap access are all well intentioned I’m sure, but I wonder if the simple things haven’t been overlooked. So, thinking with a New York state of mind, here are my top ten suggestions for the next generation of the Big Apple’s yellow cabs:
Room for four in the back – to avoid sitting on the cabbies lunch and other rubbish that accumulates
Odor-free zone - no nasty, pine-scented mirror danglers
Odor-free “munch and go drivers” - we’re not supposed to eat ‘n drink in cabs so, unless you fancy passing me a plate and a soda, nor should you!
Coffee and bagels, at least on Fridays
Perhaps a shoe-shine Johnny for that high-gloss look on your wing-tips (brogue shoes in England)
Driver’s mute switch – I’m just not into you, your problems, or your ceaseless cell phone chatter
Air-conditioning that really works – how difficult is this in the 21st century, please!
Receipts that don’t take all day to print out – I’m important and have places to go, people to see
No heavy sliding doors, and easier ingress/egress with no high step-up entryways. Especially difficult with skirts on, and that’s just the men!
Better ergonomics for handing over cash that don’t require Houdini-like contortions. I’m looking at you Mr. Ford Hybrid! Going Hybrid is certainly commendable, but that’s what you feel like after falling out of the Ford; a bit like being trapped in the washing machine on spin cycle and a new born Bambi, battered, bloodied and legless.
And, since ‘tis the Season, Peace on Earth
Disappointingly, none of the three designs are particularly striking; utilitarian being the key word and perhaps that’s inevitable. Surely the key thing is to come up with a truly iconic design, something that will set the New York taxi experience apart from other cities, rather than reworking an existing vehicle. They all tout space, but tell me this; how can the London black cabs, vehicles which are actually shorter than the outgoing Ford Crown Vic, have so much space. No-one complains about lack of space in those cabs; chatty cockney drivers yes, expensive fares yes, feeling of being taken for a ride, yes, but not the lack of space.
My money is on the Turkish concept; the only one without sliding doors. It can’t win of course, not American, potential supply problems and, as we all know, Turkish Delight and baklava stick to everything.