When the Checker Cab ended production, many taxi owners moved to cars such as the Ford Crown Victoria, however in 2011, the New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg announced the winner of a competition to provide a new vehicle: dubbed “The Taxi of Tomorrow”. That winner was Nissan with their NV200 model which was redesigned as a taxicab exclusively for the New York market.
The NV200 was launched in 2007 and was sold in a variety of configurations and names: it was also a Mitsubishi, Ashok Leyland and Chevrolet – depending on where it was assembled. It was originally fitted with a range of engines under two litres either petrol or diesel powered. In 2009, Nissan unveiled a configuration called the Vanette Universal Taxi Design and this was the basis for the New York Taxi prototype a few years later. It was fitted with a more powerful two litre motor and had more passenger comfort and facilities such as more legroom, power ports and extra visibility.
The City Council decreed that as taxi owners replaced their older cars, they had to buy the Nissan (which was painted in the traditional yellow). The plan was to replace as much as 80% of the 13,000 licensed cabs. The Council set up a marketing campaign to encourage the citizens to use them and for owners to buy them.
Mayor Bloomberg awarded Nissan a ten year contract, which the New York Times estimated to be worth up to $1B, to have exclusive supply of all taxicabs in the city. Unfortunately, it appears that the specification for the vehicle wasn’t what the taxi owners wanted and the winning vehicle was beset with problems – not least of which was the amount of fuel it drank and suspension that didn’t suit the city streets. Many drivers complained that they could only get four people on board and although the configuration was good for young or tall people, it was harder for older people to climb in to.
The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission requires all taxis to be checked every four months and some owners have complained that each one uncovered issues with the Nissan that were expensive to fix. Interestingly, ride-share operators only have to go through the same checks once every two years and are more likely to be dead-heading compared to a traditional taxi, creating more wear and tear.
In June of this year, the Commission cancelled the exclusivity clause in the contract with Nissan and opened the market to other vendors, allowing a wider choice in vehicles. Only 2,900 Nissans were purchased in the first seven years of the contract, so the agreement appears to have delayed some vehicle purchases by owners who did not want the Nissan.
It doesn’t help that like other cities, the cabbies of New York are dealing with a changing landscape and the removal of a perceived monopoly on short distance journeys. The venerable Yellow Cab has been steadily losing ground to other more nimble competitors for several years and the change to allow a choice of vehicle may be too late for some drivers who are tired of the industry and will not replace their “medallions”, as the licences are called, when they are due for renewal.
As described earlier in this article, there are only 13,000 licensed cabs in New York however there are over 60,000 hire cars – 46,000 of those are signed up to Uber! This change might simply be a defensive move in the battle for fare paying passengers.