Taxi of Today

Finally, the Taxi of Tomorrow is my ride tonight - Long Island City

Finally, the Taxi of Tomorrow is my ride tonight – Long Island City

 

“Oh gosh, where’s that button? Sorry about that, this is my first time driving this.”

“This is your first day on the job?”

“No, just in this model.”

It was not the best of times in New York over the last few weeks. Winter refused to fully make its exit, even though the vernal equinox had come and gone in a flash. WABC news anchor and reporter Lisa Colagrassi suffered a brain aneurysm and died a day later from it after coming back from an assignment in Woodhaven, the demolition of the former 5 Pointz site was finally completed after a long post-whitewashing hiatus, and a large explosion and subsequent fire in the East Village ground much of the neighborhood to a halt as questions arose about the nature of utility work and Gotham’s crumbling infrastructure. Even the subway fare went up again last week, as the two year hikes implemented by the MTA took effect. It was with this backdrop that a bit of good news finally came my way.

After 650+ shifts over the last 3 1/2 years, the first one behind the wheel of the much-heralded “Taxi of Tomorrow” finally took place last Monday. I didn’t ask for it at my garage and when  the key and my license were pushed through the slot from my dispatcher, I knew that in all likelihood that it would be the last time I’d drive a new vehicle as a hack driver in the Big Apple. It was only recently that the ruling was handed down that the Nissan NV200 would indeed become the exclusive model of yellow cab starting next month, finally bringing the winner of former Mayor Bloomberg’s plan and ensuing competition into fruition.

I get asked all the time if the vehicle that I’m driving during a particular night was given to me or if I had a choice when I showed up to work. Most often, it’s the former although any good dispatcher will know what preferences a driver has when his or her license is handed over upon walking through the door of the waiting room. When I first started, I loved the Crown Victoria because it was the dominant model of Taxi at the time and they ran like charms. It was only when other options became more prevalent that I preferred them instead, along with their better fuel economy.

In that span, I drove the Crown Vic, the Toyota Highlander, the Toyota Camry, the Ford SUV, both models of the Ford Transit Connect, and the Toyota Van. The only difficultly was having to adjust to the controls being in a different place, and where the blind spots were. Some drivers thought that certain models were cramped, broke down too much, or had their sentimental favorites but in my case, I just wanted to get out onto the street and start taking fares. What changed more than anything else was not just the standardization of the ride, but the relationship between the drivers and the garages themselves.

Skylight and partition - Greenpoint

Skylight and partition – Greenpoint

Last summer, my garage was giving a discount for those who had come into work in the form of a smaller lease fee. Think of it as a rental – the lower it is, the more likely someone is likely to pay it to use the space or in this case, vehicle. As of last week, the lease fees where I work out of were dropped on Sunday through Wednesday in the non-summer months for the first time ever. No one ever gets sent home anymore (it used to happen all the time on weekends) and there’s even incentives to get drivers to bring in others who are new to the game. As one fellow hack put it the other morning, “They treated us like crap for so long and now they’re paying for it.”

It’s no secret that this is all because of Uber. In an economy that has ZipCar, Tinder, and Angie’s List revolutionizing how we travel, date, and hire contractors, Uber is redefining what it means to get from A to B on a whim wherever, whenever. Reports estimate that where are more Uber cars than yellow cabs on the streets of New York during a typical day and soon, it won’t even be in doubt which service is more numerous in major U.S. cities. The “million dollar babies” are no longer that expensive either as the price of a medallion has fallen by over 20% in the last two years. As I’ve said to those that ask, the only way that affects me is if I can’t get a reliable vehicle to drive for 12 hours at a time and whether my take justifies the effort that I put in on a particular night. So far, both of those are still working out in my favor.

Clean seats - Long Island City

Clean seats – Long Island City

I have no idea if the new Taxi will still be reliable after taking a pounding on the city’s streets for the 5 years that they’ll be in service for. Every new model was great to drive when it was clean and still had that new car smell but the Ford Transit Connect turned out to be the poster child for how *not* to adapt a van for the purpose of short hauls on bumpy streets. The door sensor went off too much, the blind spots were in odd places, and the suspension was a total failure as I had numerous complaints about my driving and inability to avoid bumps and potholes. The new Nissan was tested quite extensively as I saw a few gallivanting around empty during their test phase every so often before they were put into service but now that there are several hundred heading out every night, the real test results by means of passenger feedback have yet to fully come in.

The ride in them was fine for this driver, however. Clean, quiet, roomy, and easy to maneuver, it ran well and didn’t cost me a ton to fill up at the end of the night. My only complaint with it was that there was no way to open up the partition, as the clear divider was firmly bolted into place and didn’t have any opening that I could slide back and forth. I never had to turn the intercom on however (since I have a distinctly low and somewhat annoying voice) but given the historic drop in crime in New York over the last 20 or 30 years, was it really necessary to have this as a feature? The skylight and USB ports were a nice touch but it’s the 21st Century and with tourism booming, why not have us get as close to our passengers as possible, with the option to close the window as needed?

Even though the Camry is still my favorite model of Taxi to drive, I don’t have a problem when I’m given a Nissan during a particular shift, however. My last fare the first night I had the NV200 decided to bail out on me up in the Bronx at 4:45 in the morning, figuring that I wouldn’t dare follow him and run the risk of being the next crime statistic. As pissed as I was, I took solace in the fact that I I had my life intact and made it through my first shift in the “Taxi of Tomorrow” as if I drove it every day since I began the job. Whether that’s my ease of adjusting or result of the overall design and functionality of the vehicle is up for debate but with so many other issues facing the city and my industry, it was comforting to know that the new ride that were imposed upon us was not something that I’d ever have to worry about again.

Trunk space - Long Island City

Trunk space – Long Island City

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A Tale of Two Cities

Dawn

Dawn

“Hey there, where to?”

“Battery Park City – North End Ave. just off of Chambers.”

“Sure thing.”

“How’s your day going?”

“Oh, I’m tired. How about you?”

“Not bad for a guy who turned another year older today.”

“Well, Happy Birthday!’

“Thank you.”

“How old are you?”

“Thirtysomethingorother…”

Well, you don’t look it *passenger laughs*.

“Thank you. I would have voted today had I lived in the 5 Boroughs. Did you get a chance to go to the polls?”

“Nope, too busy at work.”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and in my case, it was the times that I was in the midst of. My birthday came and went without much of a hoot but the real issue that day was the Mayoral Primary in the city where my vocation called home. Much was written about over the long, hot summer about who would represent the democratic side as the City’s first Lesbian, pervert, Asian, repeat African-American candidate, and 6’5″ candidates duked it out for the right to represent the donkeys in the November mayoral election.

What was more surprising than the broad crop of candidates who largely repeated the same drivel in debates over the course of the middle of the year was the lack of ideas that they had. There was a broad consensus that the Big Apple had become too impersonal, Manhattan-centric, and excessively catered to tourists and those who had returned form the suburbs during the city’s revival over the last 10+ years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in politics from reading about it, it’s that the pendulum will swing back the other way if it moves too far in one direction.

And that’s exactly what the signs were pointing at for the vote in November.

For all the hype and hoopla, the Primary race was such a hot-button issue because it was nearly a given that whoever emerged as the victor in September would also be the victor two months later. Sound bites aside, New Yorkers were concerned about solutions to long-term problems. Where would new jobs be concentrated, and in what fields? Could people who moved to Gotham afford an apartment or a down payment on a condo? Was stop-and-frisk racially motivated or a real crime deterrent? Would Unions finally be given retroactive pay raises and if so, who would pay for them? Would the Subway fare go up every two years and if not, who would fund the MTA? These were pretty serious questions that demanded answers that were more just rhetoric.

Enter Bill de Blasio. The former Public Advocate was under the radar for most of the race, as Christine Quinn held the early lead due to name recognition, only to cede the lead to Anthony Weiner. Of course, his last name held true to form as another sexting scandal and the questionable reaction by his wife ultimately did his bid in, leaving both Bills do fight it out for the right to have their name on the Democratic Party Line.

Eventually, de Blasio won over the hearts and minds of New Yorkers en masse. The ads featuring his African-American wife and racially mixed son struck a chord with New Yorkers looking for a shining example of multiculturalism in the most racially mixed city on the planet. When the votes were tabulated, Bill Thompson fell just short of the 40% needed to force a runoff, ensuring that de Blasio would be the heavy favorite two months later.

As many New Yorkers were well aware of, the centerpiece of de Blasio’s campaign was not only on affordable housing, jobs, a rollback of Police powers, or even on Municipal Unions , but on an idea that has reared its head in American politics once ever generation:

Class warfare.

In this case, it was summed up by the simplest of quotes that anyone could relate and latch on to.

“A tale of two cities.”

The premise was simple. Under Michael Bloomberg, the City as a whole had prospered. Business was up, so was tourism, and cranes were once again dotting the sky. The aftermath of 9/11 and the financial collapse of ’08 were a memory and new York was becoming a greener, more diverse, and more racially integrated City than it was when Rudolph Giuliani left office in early ’02.

But not everyone had reaped the rewards equally.

As a Taxi driver, I spent a vast majority of my time in Manhattan since that’s were the business and ultimately, the money is. No New Yorker would ever doubt that New York County was the economic heart of the Big Apple, with the outer boroughs supplying the vocational lifeblood that kept it going during working hours. What New Yorkers *did* doubt however was whether the 12 years that Bloomy spent in office favored growth and gentrification at the expense of the forgotten areas of the City, which was exacerbated during and after Hurricane Sandy a year ago. Manhattan was quick to get back up into it’s feet but the south shore communities on Long and Staten Islands were much slower to recover, as many properties were still in a state of limbo at the time of this writing.

The weather ultimately served as a metaphor, for what was going on over the last decade and change. There wasn’t a corner of Manhattan that remained unchanged by development, gentrification, and preservation, as was evidenced by all-time highs in housing prices and willingness of national retail chains to move in and be a part of the action. While this was great for the City’s economy, it made those left on the outside looking in wondering when they too, would see more of the action that was rejuvenating the Big Apple.

Many would argue that a rising tide would lift all boats, but that only holds true if you have one and aren’t drowning in the water. Taxes remained stubbornly high, wagers held stagnant, and the silent killer of inflation was evident in the rigor mortis of the water, electric, and transportation utilities. Meager gains in pay were quickly offset in rising prices for basic staples such as gas, food, essential services and of course, taxes.

Was this the City that we wanted New York to become? Would a postindustrial society have a land of the very rich and very poor as it’s centerpiece for the tourists of the world to see? Was all of this inevitable given the way things were currently progressing?

Not according to de Blasio.

Although the election in November is almost a month away, it’s nearly a given that he will defeat Joe Lhota and hold the most powerful position in the Big Apple until 2017. No matter the agenda that eventually becomes enacted, it will mark a radical departure from what New Yorkers have become accustomed to over the last 20 years. Drops in crime, Charter Schools, rezoning, and a shift away from Great Society-era social programs will cease to become hot-button issues in exchange for a platform that will more than likely include the disenfranchised minorities and lower-income earners that will have helped de Blasio win the office of the mayor of New York.

Is this all justified, however?

Many New Yorkers were outraged when Bloomberg stated last month that billionaires needed to move to the Big Apple to help the financial health of the City. They saw it as a continuation of the worst aspect of his time in office, which was the nanny state telling the citizenry what was good for them. Cigarettes? Bad. Trans fats? Don’t eat ’em. Sodas? Forget about them! While I don’t indulge in any of those habits, I never believed that it was the governments role to tell people what they could and couldn’t do with their own money and free time. It changes nothing and only breeds contempt and consternation. Was there any wonder that people were fed up with misguided paternalism?

That attitude became fully exposed for all in my industry to see this week when the Taxi of Tomorrow hit yet another setback. Years of planning, design, and integration with the Outer Boro (a.k.a. “Apple Green”) Taxis went up in smoke when a court ruled that medallion owners should not be forced to buy one model of Taxi as the older ones were cycled out. It’s a huge blow for the City as it appeared unlikely that not only would the October 28t launch date of these new rides would be pushed back, but might never happen at all given that both mayoral candidates have stated their opposition to the plan. No one that I’ve spoken to in my garage, behind the wheel, or on the street knows what’s next, except that a plethora of models will be bought and integrated into the city fleet as the Crown Vic’s continue to rapidly dwindle as they hit the end of their lifespan as New York Taxis.

Regardless of what vehicle would be my office as I made my way around Gotham on a nightly basis, it was obvious that change blowing in, long before the current President wholeheartedly endorsed de Blasio to be the 109th Major of New York. As David Byrne eloquently and passionately wrote in The Guardian earlier this week, New York needs room for those who will serve the cultural, artistic, and creative innovators of tomorrow. While they may not make money directly, they could be the next Steve Jobs or Philip Johnson of tomorrow, leading a movement that sets the current conventional wisdom on it’s head. Even Byrne (who several of my passengers have seen riding around on his bike on the Lower West Side) admits that he is now part of the 1% and far way from his humble musical beginnings, he realizes that he had a chance to move to New York and chart his own course in the process, ultimately helping to redefine music by means of the punk and indie movements.

Under the trajectory taken during the Bloomberg administration, a story like that would be almost impossible to envision now. Lots of people may tell the penniless and hungry members of tomorrow’s creative class to “move to Brooklyn” but that is no longer becoming an option. The real challenge for de Blasio will be making this a reality while maintaining the gains that the City has made over the last 20 years. As much as I hate hauling the rich finance douchebags from work to their new apartments to their black card-required nightspots, they pump a disproportionate amount of money into the city’s economy. Trickle-down economics may be easy to criticize but it’s hard to ignore in a place with a $70 billion budget that serves well over 8 million people a year. New apartments for the uber-wealthy may be empty for a sizable chunk of the year but those that are fully occupied could be vacated for greener pastures should the tax rate shoot up in the coming years. The Shutdown in Washington will come and go but something like that could affect an entire generation.

Which was the case post-WWII.

While the Great Society will never fully return, a move back in that direction would halt the momentum that has led to the growth in New York that remade so much of the physical and social fabric of the City that I love. While I have never called it home, I’ve watched the changes over the years in the same way that I see the world go by during my shifts:

From afar.

Yes, a car is in the environment in which it travels but being inside of it is just the same as watching a narrative unfold from the view of the third person, just as being a spectator at a play or sporting event. I don’t think that I will ever call New York home but I know that no matter where I go in life once I hand up the keys and put my hack license away, I will always love and care for the place that has served as my oz off to the distant east. Anyone that wishes to be at the control behind the curtain would be well versed to remember that new York is, and always will be, the place that has gained the most from the sum of its inhabitants. Nowhere else on Earth could take 8 million people, run them for less than $100 billion a year, and come up with the contributions that New York bestows to all corners of the world, all with only 600 murders a year and an overall crime rate that most U.S. cities would envy. Certainly, is a formula like that worth dividing in order to sustain a campaign long on rhetoric but short on a new way to raise the tide for the betterment of all?

“Hey there, where to?”

“Silver Towers.”

“End of 42 St, I go there all the time.”

“Great.”

“Did you vote today?”

“There was an election?”

Is there any wonder that we ultimately get the Government that we deserve?

Dusk

Dusk

Who’ll kill the electric cab?

Nissan LEAF - West Side

Nissan Leaf – West Side

“Nice Taxi you have here!”

“Thanks, but it’s not mine. I just keep it clean as possible.”

“It runs so quiet, it must be an electric or hybrid vehicle.”

“No it’s not. The engines are nowhere as big as those in the Crown Vic’s, although this does run on gasoline. Some of the SUV’s and the Prius Taxi’s are hybrids but we don’t have anymore of the former at the garage I work out of.”

“What about the Taxi of Tomorrow? Isn’t that supposed to run on electric power?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

Now that we’re down to T minus 70 days and counting until the Taxi of Tomorrow hits the streets of the Big Apple, there’s been a lot more talk about it’s rollout, both in the news and by my passengers. As I wrote in an earlier post, many people incorrectly think that the Ford Transit Connect is the Taxi of Tomorrow but even though some of those have been on the streets for nearly two years now, none will be active as a yellow cab at the end of the decade should the full implementation of the Nissan NV-200 take place. It did lose out to it in the competition to be the exclusive yellow cab for the City of New York, but since the Crown Victoria is no longer being made by Ford, other models have taken the place of those that have reached the end of their life cycle, and the Transit Connect happens to be one of the more popular choices to replace the cars that have hit retirement age.

Come October, that all changes as the first of the NV-200’s will roll out. New Yorkers will have a custom-built Taxi designed for comfort, safety, stability, and durability (or so we’ve been told) that has been thoroughly tested and ready for the daily wear and tear that the streets will inevitably put on them. Since no one in the general public had been inside of one and none of the drivers currently employed in New York has driven one, the jury is out on whether the grandiose promises that the TLC and the Mayor have made about this new Taxi will be kept. One aspect about them remains in flux however:

What will they run on?

One of the questions I get the most by my passengers is how the cost of fuel is borne at the end of the shift. Many incorrectly think that the garage pays for whatever we use while we’re on-duty, but if you’ve kept up with my musings on here, you know better than that. Just like a rental car, the Taxis we drive have to be returned in the condition we took them out in – clean, ding-free, and full.

Of gas, that is.

Thankfully, my garage has a home station nearby that also serves as a de facto AAA emergency roadside service. The tow trucks that will take us back in case we break down are not based near my garage but in case of a flat tire, a dead battery, or other small problems that arise from time to time, one of the guys who works at the station will take the old taxi that’s been converted to a Saint Bernard on wheels and help us out. It’s a lifesaver since getting towed is time-consuming and as anyone is well aware of, time is money. To take that a step further, time lost during a shift is money lost.

The day drivers have it rough when it comes to getting gas since getting in and out of the Station at rush hour is one knock-’em, sock-’em game of musical chairs with everyone else who is trying to get in and out at the same time. At 4:50 in the morning, the streets are empty and the only thing I can count on is that I’ll see the same 5 or 10 guys out of my garage who are finishing their shift at the same time. We almost always agree on how good or bad it was out on the streets that night and we’ll trade barbs on what we went through during the previous 12 hours. In a field where it’s pretty much every driver for him or herself, it’s the only time where I feel like I can bond with those that put in the same hours and working conditions that I do.

Could all of this change in the near future? A few months back, Nissan helped launch 6 electric LEAF Taxis to join the 13,000+ gasoline and hybrid vehicles that currently make up the fleet in New York. All of them look like the one pictured above and have the same fare structure as the other Taxis. The real reason for their usage however, is to see whether they can pass muster and handle the day-to-day grind that will take its toll on them. Eventually, the city wants 1/3 of the fleet to be electric by the end of the decade.

Of course, that will have to coincide with the NV-200 being the exclusive model of Taxi by that time, even though none of the ones set to hit the street this year are slated to run via a charger and battery.

This brings up a host of problems that will have to be addressed. For starters, there are only a limited number of charging stations currently in the 5 Boroughs. Garages are expected to have the stations first before they become more widely available but for now, an app is needed to locate them.

Then there’s the time factor. Most of the Taxis in the overall fleet are on the road at least 20 hours a day, nearly every day of the week. Steady cars get traded off between partners and the others are dispatched out to the daily or nightly drivers. It’s not uncommon for a Taxi to rack up well over 300,000 miles during its 6-year lifespan on the streets before it hits retirement age and is decommissioned. Charging, for all the advances made in it in the last few years, still takes a while and has to be done on vehicles that are not on the road for two shifts a day. Once the time to fully recharge a battery drops, this can change and then can an electric cab can be on-duty for nearly the entire day (or night).

Last but not least, there’s the issue of the battery. Ask anyone who’s had to pay for a new one in a hybrid vehicle and you’ll probably get sighs and groans as a response. They’re not cheap and their replacement can easily wipe out the savings in gas in a heartbeat. The cars currently on the road haven’t had to go through that yet but eventually, they will and the cost will have to be borne by someone in order to keep them running. Their range between charges isn’t terribly far either and for someone like me who drives nearly the entire time in a 12-hour shift, 140-150 miles will be the minimum needed to ensure a safe and stress-free night at work.

No one ever seems to mention that for all the gas that an electric Taxi will save, it will still need an energy source. A plug may not give off carbon dioxide but the source of the power that feeds into it probably will. Given that Indian Point’s days are numbered and that a majority of the power that New York consumes today is from fossil fuels, how much greenhouse gases are electric vehicles really keeping out of the atmosphere? To me, it’s a shell game that everyone is in favor of without thinking everything through from start to finish.

Ultimately, the big issue that this will come down to is going to be the same one that affects so much of what New York’s future depends on, which is infrastructure. Charging stations will have to be widespread, do the job quickly, and be built to last. If 1/3 of the 13,000+ yellow cabs (which could number nearly 15,000 by decade’s end) are to be electric, they will have to withstand the wear and tear that the job will place on them, as well as repeated charges on a near-daily basis. There’s nothing wrong with pushing the edge of what’s technologically possible as a means of efficiency and to help provide better environment for all but when it comes down to nuts and bolts, what matters is whether the person on the street hailing a cab will get into an electric one over a model that’s more familiar and reliable.

Usage will dictate what ultimately fails and succeeds. The Second Avenue Subway will cost billions to construct but after years of delays, it will be worth it when tens of thousands of passengers patronize the line once it’s finally open for revenue service. Water Tunnel #3 will be in near-constant use when it comes online in the next few years and any of the new parks along the East and Hudson Rivers will be worth the cost once the attendance numbers and rise in surrounding real estate values are taken into consideration. If the new cabs are up and running at decades end and the average passenger can’t discern between those that run via the pump versus those that run via the charge, than the plan will be a success and New York will be looked at as a leader in alternative energy for the vehicles that service the riding public.

Until then, we can only hope that the vast amount of time and money spent on this new technology will not be seen as a wasted opportunity, unlike the ill-fated Chevy Volt. The taxpayers and Taxi riders of Gotham do not deserve a boondoggle, repeated on such a massive scale.

iPhone26 056Charging station – New Jersey

Yellow with NV

Not to be confused with the Taxi of Tomorrow

“Hey there, where to?”

“Nice cab you have here!”

“It’s not mine, but thank you.”

“This must be that Taxi of the Future that I keep reading about. It looks so European.”

“I’ve never been to Europe so I can’t vouch for that but you’re incorrect. This is a new Taxi but not the “new” new Taxi – that’s not going to be out for a year and change.”

“So this isn’t the one that one the citywide competition?”

“Nope, that’s a Nissan. This is a Ford Transit Connect.”

“A Ford what?”

“Transit Connect.”

“What kind of a name is that and how did a foreign model get the contract for New York?”

“Lady, I’m not from Dearborn and I don’t know the Mayor personally. You can seek them out if you wish to know.”

And so it goes.

I’ve had at least 50 variations of this conversation over the last month, ever since I was given the long, round key to the above model vehicle and asked if I wanted to let ‘er loose on the on the streets of the Big Apple. Now, I don’t have any kids (as far as I know) so driving “the van” was a bit of an odd concept to me at first. Thankfully, it hasn’t been difficult to navigate and it’s nice to be noticed by New Yorkers, instead of just having them dart out in front of me at all hours of the night.

Eventually, the topic that always arose during this exchange was about the new model of Taxi. Was there really a citywide competition? Would it be ADA compliant? Most importantly, would there be a day where *all* the yellow cabs in the citywide fleet would be identical?

Yes, yes, and if the TLC gets its way, yes.

A little background first for those of you unfamiliar with the vehicles that transport people from points A to B in the 5 Boroughs. Most of what you currently see on the street are the last of the workhorses known as the Ford Crown Victoria. At one point, it WAS the only model in the city fleet and if you were pulled over by a police officer of rented a car at a major airport, odds are that the vehicle in that fleet was also a Crown Vic, as we refer to them. Popula , durable, and fast, they were a staple across the land for decades and could handle the wear and tear that millions placed on them over the years. Unfortunately, they had one big drawback:

They were lousy on gas.

I drove a Mustang for years, so I’ll admit that I have a bias for the automaker that started out making mobility available for the masses. It had a big engine and wasn’t the best on fuel economy but I didn’t spent a majority of my time on thoroughfares that could double as logging trail pathways. Eventually, the price of gas spiked up and greenies became powerful enough to change the vehicles found in Taxi fleets.

Enter the change.

Soon enough, the Toyota Prius, Ford Expedition, and a whole host of other models entered the mix and could be found on the streets of New York. One of the questions that I was often asked when driving the vehicle pictured above is whether it cost more for the passenger since it was “ADA compliant and all that”. No, it was the same as all the other Taxis but when I saw people choose the Crown Victoria over that when we both pulled up to a hailing passenger, I knew there was a problem with how people perceived it. I still laugh at the rich bitch on the Upper West Side two weeks ago who “couldn’t slide the door open” and gave up after one halfhearted attempt to enter my wheels on that night. The point to remember is that Taxis are yellow and have the same rate for one reason:

Standardization.

Of course, that was out the window once competition entered the Taxi marketplace. While I don’t buy and sell medallions like owners do, drivers like me *are* the public face of the industry so when I’m on duty, I see enough to know what works and what doesn’t.

A month or so after the Transit Connect entered the rotation of vehicles dispatched to the nightly drivers at my garage, there was a big hullabaloo about the coming attraction at this year’s New York Auto Show. No, it wasn’t an electric car or a roadster from a famous movie. Of course, it was this…

Soon coming to a street near you

Ladies and gentleman, this is it – your Taxi of Tomorrow. It was tucked way into the corner of the exhibition space and was only found by me since as usual, yellow wasn’t a popular choice of exterior colors on next year’s models. You’ll also notice the glass around the edges, so I wasn’t able to sit inside of ‘er and see how well it felt for the person who might actually have to drive it.

Once the initial amazement wore off, it was time to give this model a good inspection. Press releases for the vehicle touted its accessibility, large sunroof-like window for sightseeing landmarks around the city, and recycled tires used in the floor mats. As a sign of the times, it has USB ports for charging electrical devices too and a built-in GPS and meter which does show some input from the driver’s perspective. A few shots of the promo video that accompanied the vehicle featured it in locales such as Times Square, seamlessly fitting in with the traffic and neighborhoods that it will inevitably have to pick up and discharge passengers in. While models and renderings are always pleasing, the Taxi will be just like me when it finally comes down to hard labor and brass tacks since real test will come once the key is turned and the grind of 12-hour shifts takes its toll.

Nearly every model of cab has its drawbacks from what I’ve experienced firsthand. The Crown Vic is a fuel hog and has a turning radius the size of a 747. The Prius? I’ve seen a few at JFK take two pieces of luggage before the passengers took them out and found a cab that was up for the task of transporting international arrivals home without feeling like a sardine can. The SUVs? Guess what – they’re small on room too, once they carry 4 people. Hybrids are great too but God forbid you’re deaf or blind – you’ll be next to one and have no idea that it’s actually moving until you find it or it finds you. Oh, and that Transit Connect pictured way at the top? The one I drove two Saturdays ago had to go in for brake service halfway through my shift, and it had an astounding 14,000 miles on it.

The city is taking a *huge* risk by standardizing the Taxi model with an unproven design that might not be ready for the wear and tear of the streets of New York. Yes, a standard model is the best way to go but to make it fuel efficient, modern, stylish, made in the U.S.A. (I was informed that Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, Tennessee will be manufacturing all the NV 200’s for the Big Apple), and durable would not be an easy task for anyone. To do all of that and make it ADA-compliant would inevitably result in something like this:

The tank, a.k.a. the MV-1

Thank God I don’t have to explain this to my passengers…yet.