5 Ways New York’s Taxi of Tomorrow Is Stuck in the Past

2014 nissan nv200 taxi
The Taxi of Tomorrow is hitting the streets in large numbers in 2016 | Source: Nissan

New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow, the Nissan NV200, is  rolling out in larger numbers in 2016. If you are visiting NYC or live there, chances are you are going to take a spin in this mass-transit solution that is the product of years of debate and controversy. As it stands, this passenger van is the only non-hybrid vehicle accepted by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) for operation on Gotham streets.

There are several selling points for the NV200, including the sliding doors that avoid street mishaps and the potential for wheelchair accessibility. We say “potential” because accessibility requires an expensive upgrade, and this got us thinking about other reasons this car is not built for the future. Here are five ways this taxi is more a symbol of the past than worthy of the “tomorrow” label and contract that came with it.

1. Wasted space

nv 200 taxi interior
Passenger seats are a ways from the pay screen and driver | Source: TLC

Passengers might get the impression they are preparing for a small plane launch inside the Taxi of Tomorrow. The amount of wasted space is astounding. Visiting tourists certainly have room for hand luggage, but there is something called a trunk that served the same purpose in taxis of the past. Sitting there and listening to the driver speaking on a microphone — an interaction commonly reserved for aircraft — makes for a bizarre experience. We don’t see the point of this layout.

2. It runs on gasoline at 23 mpg

A Nissan NV200 is seen as a New York City taxi cab in New York City.
Nissan NV200 gets an EPA-estimated 23 miles per gallon in city driving | Source: City of New York/Getty Images

Automakers are winning the fuel economy battle. Toyota Prius Eco gets 58 miles per gallon in city driving, topping an impressive pack of vehicles. Or try the Chevy Malibu Hybrid at 47 miles per gallon city. Don’t like Chevy? Get a Ford Fusion Hybrid at 44 miles per gallon city. You have to travel way, way down on the list to find a car getting 23 miles per gallon in city driving, but that’s what New York’s Taxi of Tomorrow gets. What a massive emissions dump on the city for the coming years.

3. A clunky, loud ride

Taxi of Tomorrow
Taxi of Tomorrow is the enemy of bumpy roads | Source: Nissan

Have you noticed the rumbling and thumping you experience any time you hit a bump virtually every second you’re inside this taxi? New York is a city of potholes, uneven roads, and otherwise problematic streets. To enjoy any type of smooth ride, you need a vehicle built to handle imperfections. Crown Vics were; some of the more compact hybrids are; but the Nissan NV200 is most certainly not. You will be rattled by the ride even when you are traveling a few blocks.

4. Wheelchair access issues

Taxi of Tomorrow design
Wheelchair accessibility has been criticized by advocacy groups | Source: TLC

The United Spinal Association (USA), which pushed to get wheelchair-accessible taxis to 50% by 2020, took issue with the design eventually used in the Taxi of Tomorrow. USA signed a letter that described the NV200’s rear entry for wheelchairs as “awkward, dangerous, and embarrassing.” BraunAbility, which retrofits the taxis for handicap access, contended the installation is both safe and practical. After such a huge concession, it is incomprehensible officials didn’t consult with advocacy groups on design.

5. Bureaucracy at its worst

Taxi of Tomorrow
Source: City of New York

Wheelchair users who currently need to hire a cab can call the NYC public 311 hotline or use an app for service. In a city serving over 8 million people, this solution seems sound, especially when half the entire fleet will be wheelchair-accessible soon. So why would New York mandate a gas-guzzling taxi capable of accommodating wheelchairs for a fleet requiring relatively few? And why are Uber vehicles exempt from these restrictions? If you want to criticize bureaucracy, start here.

We don’t just want to criticize after the fact, so we’ll close with a few thoughts. To fix the fuel economy disaster, get the electric model of the NV200 in play. In the meantime, make it easier on taxi drivers and passengers by allowing other vehicles besides the minivan once old cars get retired. And whatever law you put in place for taxis, make ride-share companies abide by them, too. Until then, the Taxi of Tomorrow will seem stuck in the past.

Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY