I knew what I wanted from a New York taxi, and this small SUV wasn’t it. “Where are all the Crown Victorias, with their V8 engines and sloppy suspension?” I asked my wife. If sharing my concern, she was doing a good job of hiding it.
The crummy Ford seemed fundamentally ill-suited to life as a taxi, with its small boot and almost total absence of space for passengers. It was also slow, noisy and rode like a sideboard being pushed down a staircase.
We were therefore more selective when time came to hail our second taxi of the trip. To the untrained eye, the Nissan we selected was just another bland yellow box, roaming the streets in search of paying occupants. But there was actually more to it, I told Mrs K. It was in fact (I used my fingers as inverted commas at this point) the “Taxi of Tomorrow”.
“And what does that mean?” she said, using mock inverted commas of her own.
Shrugging off the sarcasm, I explained how the Mexican-built NV200 was the replacement for the ageing New York yellow taxi fleet, and how, as a result, this seemingly innocuous vehicle has caused a lot of controversy. In addition to the issue of pushing drivers towards a one-size-fits-all vehicle, there were complaints from the Greater New York Taxi Association about the NV200’s restricted wheelchair access and lack of a hybrid drivetrain to cut emissions.
As a result, New York’s Taxi of Tomorrow initiative has been on and off like the light atop the Nissan’s roof. But in June this year the deal was finally put back on track, and as a result the plan at present is for more than 26,000 of these converted vans to hit NY over the next decade, helping to provide transportation for the 600,000 people who ride in a cab every single day. And do you know, I think they’re going to like it.
For a start, being based on a van means the boot is enormous. And while there’s only seating for three on the back bench (a fourth person can travel in the front), the sliding doors mean access is easy. The interior is refreshingly airy, with room to move your legs and – nice touch this – a glass roof through which you can admire the city’s skyscrapers.
From what I could tell, the petrol engine had just enough oomph to pull the little van along at the modest speeds New York traffic allows, and the CVT gearbox seemed well-suited to the stop-and-start conditions. A small panel containing USB ports so that passengers may charge their phones is an inspired touch, as is the “low annoyance horn”, which emits a quiet honk accompanied by a light.
If that all sounds like fun, an officially licenced London version of the NV200 taxi, with a comedy black cab-esque nose grafted on, was due to arrive this month – right up until Mayor Boris Johnson proposed that all new taxis registered in London should be zero emissions by 2018. Wary of rolling out lots of shiny new petrol cars that could be redundant in three years’ time should the legislation go ahead, Nissan has put a hold on the project.
Not for the first time, the Taxi of Tomorrow is at the mercy of the bureaucracy of today.