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New York Bids Farewell To Crown Victoria Taxis

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New York Bids Farewell To Crown Victoria Taxis

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New York Bids Farewell To Crown Victoria Taxis

New York Bids Farewell To Crown Victoria Taxis

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Adolphus Stewart dispatches taxis at one of the most popular spots to catch a cab in New York City: i

Adolphus Stewart dispatches taxis at one of the most popular spots to catch a cab in New York City: Penn Station. New York's yellow cabs serve upwards of 700,000 passengers each day. Brian Reed/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Brian Reed/NPR
Adolphus Stewart dispatches taxis at one of the most popular spots to catch a cab in New York City:

Adolphus Stewart dispatches taxis at one of the most popular spots to catch a cab in New York City: Penn Station. New York's yellow cabs serve upwards of 700,000 passengers each day.

Brian Reed/NPR

New York City is saying goodbye to the crown jewel of its streets.

Next year, Ford will stop production of the classic stretch Crown Victoria, a hallmark of police fleets and, of course, New York City taxicabs.

Ford is discontinuing the Crown Victoria because it's a gas guzzler, and sales have been declining. But if the company ever wants to film a Crown Vic commercial just for old time's sake, it should visit a taxi garage in Queens where Simon Majumder hangs out.

"It is the best car. It is the best car for yellow cab. This is the best one. ... Very, very, very, very best car," says Majumder, who has been driving taxis for nine years. He says he loves the Crown Vic because it's roomy, it's comfortable, the air conditioning is strong, it's reliable — and when it does break down, it's cheap to fix.

So whatever car takes the Crown Vic's place has some big tires to fill.

New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission is holding a contest of sorts — called Taxi of Tomorrow — to replace not only the Crown Vic but also the 10 other vehicles that currently operate as yellow cabs in the city.

"We're looking for the perfect vehicle to be a New York City taxi," says Commissioner David Yassky.

The commission has asked carmakers to design one that will be the singular New York taxicab — a kind of Checker Cab for the 21st century — built specifically for that purpose, unlike the Altimas and Escapes and Crown Victorias that roam the streets now. The winner gets an exclusive 10-year contract with the city.

And Yassky has some pretty high standards.

"It's gotta be comfortable, it's gotta be durable, but we also want it to be a 21st century vehicle — fuel efficient, accessible for all passengers, have a design that reflects the energy of New York City," he says.

What Is The Perfect Taxi?

But for a cab system that carries nearly 700,000 passengers a day, the "perfect taxi" is a difficult concept to pin down.

"People want different vehicles. One might want SUV, one might want minivan, one might want sedan," says Adolphus Stewart, a dispatcher at Penn Station, one of the most popular places to grab a cab.

There are handicapped passengers, Stewart says, passengers with lots and lots of luggage who need trunk space, stubborn old-timers who won't get in anything but a Crown Vic.

Just listen to the customers standing in Stewart's line.

Jose Guevara, a cab driver for 30 years, leans on his trusty Crown Victoria. i

Jose Guevara, a cab driver for 30 years, leans on his trusty Crown Victoria. Ford is discontinuing the popular fleet vehicle in 2011, leaving the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in search of a replacement. Brian Reed/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Brian Reed/NPR
Jose Guevara, a cab driver for 30 years, leans on his trusty Crown Victoria.

Jose Guevara, a cab driver for 30 years, leans on his trusty Crown Victoria. Ford is discontinuing the popular fleet vehicle in 2011, leaving the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in search of a replacement.

Brian Reed/NPR

"I think they should have sliding doors," says Jennifer Levy.

"Tight turning circle, you want a car that's flexible, mobile and economical," Michael Regan says.

"I see too many I don't like. I don't like this one, I don't like the other one — I just like the old ones," says Maria Salgado

She means the Crown Victoria.

Stewart, the dispatcher, says this leaves the designers of New York's next cab with quite a conundrum. He says he doesn't know how to design a taxi that accommodates all of those different preferences. The reason the taxi commission is asking for a single model is that the demand for new cabs in New York isn't that high by auto manufacturing standards — about 2,600 new cars a year.

But that worries some taxi fleet owners, like Michael Levine.

"I need about five or six vehicles right now. I can't get a Ford Crown Victoria, so what am I gonna do? I'm gonna go out get some Nissan Altimas, whatever else is available. If there's one car, and one manufacturer, and they are out of vehicles, you can't replace anything," he says.

It also eliminates competition, and Levine worries that'll make prices go up.

"It takes kind of the fun out of operating a business when all your decision-making is done for you. You can't experiment with things, can't try to make the company better, can't differentiate yourself," he says.

But for lots of drivers, it doesn't need to get any better. At the garage in Queens, Jose Guevara says he's driven all sorts of cabs over the past three decades.

This is how Guevara answers when asked if he had to submit his own design:

"I would make a smaller version of the Crown Vic. Crown Vic Jr., I would say."

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