• Image about New York City
The front seat of the Nissan NV200 taxi

A Historyof theNew York Taxi

Horse-Drawn Carriages (pre-1897)
Horse carts, many operated by the Hansom Cab Company, were a common mode of transportation in the late 19th century, at a rate of 30 cents per mile.

Electric Hansom Cabs (1897)
The Electric Carriage and Wagon Company began running a fleetof 12 hansom cabs before transitioning to Electrobat cars that ran on two 800-pound battery-powered motors.

New York Taxicabs (1907)
The New York Taxicab Company operated the first metered cabsin the city; the gas-powered cars were originally painted red and greenand imported from France.

Checker Cab (1921)
A vintage New York taxicabcreated in Kalamazoo, Mich., Checker dominated the streets for nearly five decades and continued in operationuntil as late as 1999.

Chevrolet Caprice (1970s)
The disco era’s precursor to theCrown Vic, the workhorse Capricewas discontinued in 1996.

Crown Victoria (1996)
A full-size, rear-wheel boat that, despite its being a gas-guzzler, remains a favorite among drivers for its durability. The Crown Victoria will be replaced in 2013by the Nissan NV200.

Unfortunately, not everyone is excited about the decision. A number of local public officials have called for an investigation into a possible conflict of interest in the ­decision-making process, and a disability-rights group has filed suit seeking to overturn the decision. Others just plain don’t like the car. Yassky dubs the NV200 “the heir apparent to the Checker,” the yellow-and-black behemoth that dominated New York streets from the 1940s through the ’70s; it was a symbol of New York worldwide. “They were great — a classic New York City icon,” says Andrew Murstein, president of taxi-industry lender Medallion Financial Corp., whose grandfather purchased one of the first taxi medallions in 1937. The NV200, though, described by Gothamist.com as “the minivan of yesterday … ugly and familiar,” has yet to draw a similar response from city dwellers. In fact, more than 65 percent of respondents in a February 2011 New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission survey said that they “liked” or “loved” the Karsan design — a sleek, glass-enclosed, rear-engine model — compared with just over 42 percent for the Nissan and 38 percent for the Ford. And many, including actor and former New York resident Danny DeVito, liked the idea of a New York cab that could be produced right there in the city. Of the three finalists, Karsan was the only one that pledged to build the taxis in the U.S., and it planned to open an assembly line (and create up to 800 local jobs) in Brooklyn if selected. On the NV200, while the final upfitting will be done in the U.S., the car itself will be manufactured in Cuernavaca, Mexico. For DeVito, who might not be a cab expert but who did play the irritable NYC cab dispatcher Louie De Palma in the late-’70s show Taxi, that’s just not acceptable. “New York cabs should be made in the USA,” the actor says. “No two ways about it.” New York’s 60,000 or so wheelchair users also have a bone to pick over the NV200 selection. Only 231 of the current fleet of city cabs are presently wheelchair-accessible. In January 2011, disability-rights groups filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the city has violated state and federal law by failing to require more handicap-accessible taxis and that two of the Taxi of Tomorrow finalists — the NV200 and Ford’s Transit Connect — are simply not accessible.

The Karsan V1 was the only finalist to offer full wheelchair accessibility in every car, featuring an electric-powered ramp stretching from street to curb. While the NV200 can be upfitted to become ­wheelchair-accessible, the aftermarket process comes with a hefty price tag (an expected $14,000; just under half of the car’s expected $29,000 price tag). The process also takes a toll on the cars themselves, according to Michael Woloz, spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which represents medallion owners. “When you upfit a taxi cab, you are literally taking the car apart, splitting it in half and then putting it back together again with accessibility components. You’re doing damage to the long-term durability of that car.”
  • Image about New York City
The back seat of the Nissan NV200 taxi

Commissioner Yassky maintains that the city is working to meet the needs of disabled taxi passengers. If signed into law, a recently passed state bill will add 569 new medallions earmarked specifically for wheelchair-accessible vehicles. “The next step,” Yassky says, “is to make sure that those taxis are connected with the people who need them. We’re setting up a system where people will be able to call 311 [a city-government information line] and have a wheelchair-­accessible taxi dispatched to pick them up.” He expects the program to be up and running in early 2012.

Despite what its detractors might say, the NV200 is not without its selling points. Unlike the Karsan model, which has not been mass-produced, Nissan has been making commercial versions of the NV200 van since 2009, so it already has the infrastructure necessary to start churning out the taxi editions. And the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission’s website claims that the low cost of the NV200 “will help reduce the need for future fare increases.” Debate, complaints and politics aside, though, for Murstein, the solution for the Taxi of Tomorrow is simple: Make it the Taxis of Tomorrow. “I have a problem with monopolies. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to have just one of anything. You have several choices for cellphone and cable companies, why have one entity responsible for taxis?” Only time will tell if the city where variety is king agrees.

Chris Opfer is an attorney and a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y. His work has appeared in Popular Science, The Village Voice, MLB Insiders Club and Draft Magazine.