By Jim Motavalli
12:05 PM EDT, October 23, 2013
Taken a taxi recently? I had the unusual experience recently of traveling to a "sustainable city," Chattanooga, and encountering public transit with so many blind spots (despite a ground-breaking downtown electric shuttle bus) that I ended up taking taxis everywhere.
Here in the New York metropolitan area, we're relatively spoiled. Not only do we have access to both Amtrak and Metro North, but the city itself is one of the most transit-friendly in the U.S. More than half of all New Yorkers don't bother with cars, and a majority get to work on some form of public transit. But the city does have a robust taxi fleet, and that's what this story is about.
If you've heard of the Taxi of Tomorrow, then you know it's a made-just-for-New-York Nissan NV200 van. Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed it big time, but taxi drivers and owners opposed it just as vehemently.
Now the Taxi of Tomorrow is in limbo, because a State Supreme Court judge threw the plan out last week, saying that any effort to mostly restrict the city's 14,000 medallion cabs to one vehicle is illegal. That's a big step backwards for the Bloomberg administration, which saw the taxi plan as a signature accomplishment.
One reason the NV200 gets people so worked up is that it's not available, yet anyway, as either a hybrid or electric vehicle, and New York's taxi rules specify hybrids. New York cabbies really like such hybrids as the Nissan Altima, Ford Escape and Toyota Prius. One cabbie pointed out that fueling his C-MAX used three or four gallons of gas in a 12-hour shift, while his old Crown Victoria slurped down 13 or 14. The bottom line breeds love.
I rode in an NV200 in New York, and loved the size and the human-friendly touches. Nissan assures me that it will have a hybrid version in 2014 or 2015, but it may be too little, too late. A battery EV version is forthcoming, too, but that might take longer than the hybrid.
Meanwhile, four Nissan Leaf electric cars are in experimental taxi service in New York. I think the Leaf is a less than ideal car for taxi service, both because of its short range and its less-than-commodious rear seat. Electrics could serve as taxis — New York had them as early as 1899 — but to be most effective they need more range. If Tesla made a minivan with the Model S' drivetrain, that would be ideal for the purpose — but far too expensive, right?
Connecticut has a really motley taxi fleet, mostly consisting of ancient Crown Vics and rusty, creaking Chevys. But I was surprised to see natural gas taxis on the streets of Bridgeport. It would be nice if some Connecticut mayors took on this issue and started championing cleaner hacks. After all, taxis are on the road nearly 24 hours a day, so they're really spewing out the pollutants.
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