New York hails taxis of the future

With wheelchair lifts, easy-to-clean interiors and ride-sharing signs, exhibit shows New Yorkers how to improve its iconic cabs. Photos: Rethinking New York's taxis

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
NEW YORK--The people who spruce up parks hope they can get New Yorkers to think differently about taxi cabs.

Taxi 07 is an exhibit putting the spotlight on improving the accessibility, sustainability and design of taxis in New York City. The exhibit opens to the public on Friday in conjunction with the New York International Auto Show and was coordinated by the Design Trust for Public Space in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the New York taxi.

"They are really a public space in New York when you think about it. They carpet the streets," said Wendi Parson, director of communications for Taxi 07.

The exhibit includes various concept cars and prototypes, as well as models that are ready for production, and is meant to serve as a dialog with the people of the city to show what can be done easily to improve taxis, said Parson.

One concept car, the Standard Taxi by the company of the same name, is built to be green, accessible and practical. The boxy crossover car is large enough that a wheelchair can fit through its extra-wide doors but is still 14 inches shorter than a Ford Crown Victoria. It can be converted to run on compressed natural gas for better fuel efficiency and holds an extra-large fuel tank in its trunk to take drivers through an entire shift.

The interior, which can hold about four large adults, a wheelchair or scooter, and luggage, can be hosed down to be kept clean.

"I don't mean to get gross, but many cab drivers we interviewed have told us that on Friday or Saturday nights people really have thrown up in their taxis. This way, they can just hose it down, keep the taxi clean, and it won't smell," said Marc Klein, president of the vehicle production group for Standard Taxi.

Photos of Taxi 07 Exhibit

The taxi is also made from commonly found auto parts and has interchangeable doors to make a fleet manager's job easier. A ramp that slides out from its side lets people in wheelchairs just roll right in.

Along the theme of accessibility, Toyota's Sienna Taxi features a motorized seat that swings out and lowers for people with walkers or wheelchairs, and a lift that takes a personal vehicle up and inside its rear compartment.

"This would not be hard to implement. I am going to propose a pilot (program with three vehicles) next week to the board of commissioners," said Peter Schenkman, the assistant commissioner for safety and emissions at the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission.

Since there are about 62,000 New Yorkers who use some sort of wheelchair and 60 percent of them have the ability to transfer into a seat, the motorized seat makes sense for the majority of the city's taxis. TLC could then use alternative vehicles to service completely wheelchair-bound New Yorkers through its call-ahead program for the disabled, Schenkman said.

"The fact that this has been embraced internationally--Paris and Tokyo already have it--makes it easier for us," said Schenkman.

Gadgets are also abundant at the exhibit. There is a tricked-out high-riser Crown Victoria with spinners on the wheels. And the Kia Rondo concept taxi featured ideas from Smart Design and other New York City design firms such as lit foot wells, lit door tips that allow oncoming traffic to see opened doors, and bright yellow handles and seatbelt clips to make finding them easier. Antenna Design included the idea for a taxi sign that signals if a passenger is willing to share a cab and where they are headed. The roof of another car the group collaborated on has skylights so visitors can see New York's skyscrapers even better while they ride.

The TLC announced on Wednesday that the easy-to-read graphics painted on the Kia Rondo taxi have been chosen as the new standard and will be implemented on all New York City cabs by the end of the year.

Other taxis on exhibit are more concentrated on cities' growing efforts to embrace alternative fuels. There is a Crown Victoria that has been converted to CNG, a hydrogen fuel cell taxi and a concept cab from Hybrid Technologies that's a PT Cruiser that runs on a lithium-ion battery.