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The Taxi of Tomorrow arrived today in New York City. The country's largest taxi fleet will be gradually replaced over the next decade by a new cab built by Nissan. It's the first New York taxi to be designed for the job since the iconic checker cab.
Company and city officials unveiled the car last night, and NPR's Joel Rose was there.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Nissan designers spent months riding in taxis and talking to cab owners, drivers and passengers. The biggest complaint they heard: The smell.
FRANCOIS FARION: We heard a lot of things about dirty, smell, hard way to get out.
ROSE: Francois Farion is the design manager of the Taxi of Tomorrow. He says most cars only have to satisfy one person, the driver. But this cab has to work for a lot of different stakeholders.
FARION: We needed it to be reliable, to satisfy fleet owners and the drivers. But also to be really cleaner, more comfortable, offering more views to the city, more open.
ROSE: This car will eventually replace all 13,000 or so cabs on the road in New York. Nissan won a city-sponsored contest to build the new taxi, beating out two other carmakers for a contract that could be worth a billion dollars.
Joe Castelli is head of North American operations for Nissan. He says the company had a leg up because the other two finalists were already in production.
JOE CASTELLI: Our vehicle, we were still baking the cake and so our timing worked very well for us. So we could adapt a lot of the vehicle to what New York wanted.
ROSE: The NV200 looks like an undersized minivan. It's smaller than Ford's Crown Victoria, the most common cab on the road today. But it has more legroom, special antimicrobial seats, a window in the roof for gazing up at skyscrapers, even outlets for recharging your cell phone. It's already earned the approval of one important constituency: the cabbies.
BERESFORD SIMMONS: I've been doing this for 40 years, so I know what I'm talking about.
ROSE: Beresford Simmons of Queens says he's impressed that Nissan actually listened to what drivers like him wanted.
SIMMONS: A comfortable driver is a safe driver.
ROSE: But there have also been some complaints about the Taxi of Tomorrow. The first batch of cabs is expected to get about 25 miles per gallon, not enough to satisfy everyone. And Jean Ryan, of the Taxis for All Campaign, calls the new Nissan the Taxi of Yesterday because the basic model cannot accommodate riders in wheelchairs.
JEAN RYAN: We want all the cabs to be accessible and the Taxi of Tomorrow is inaccessible. Nobody with a disability can ride it. And we call that segregation and discrimination.
ROSE: Nissan says the cab can be modified to fit a wheelchair, but that will add to its regular sticker price of $29,000.
And the new taxi has yet to face what may prove to be its toughest critics, passengers. Dave Finger of Brooklyn objects to the cab on purely aesthetic grounds.
DAVE FINGER: Now our taxicabs are bright yellow minivans. What's happening? The suburbification of New York City?
ROSE: But Amani Farid doesn't mind the new look.
AMANI FARID: I actually would ride over in one of these over the other ones, just for space reasons when you pile in it, like at night in a heartbeat.
ROSE: And appearance doesn't matter at all to Steve Phillips.
STEVE PHILLIPS: If the cab driver knows where he's going, if he can speak a little English, what do I care what the cab looks like?
ROSE: The public can get a preview of the Taxi of Tomorrow at the New York Auto Show, which opens Friday. The first cars are expected on the streets in October 2013.
Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.
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