In London’s ‘Taxi of Tomorrow,’ wheelchair-users can ride, too

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Taxi of Tomorrow (via taxioftomorrow.com)
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Pending final approvals, London will soon be introducing a Nissan taxi to city streets that in countless ways resembles New York City's "Taxi of Tomorrow," the boxy Nissan vehicle that will replace existing cabs starting late next year.

Like the New York City version, London's will be the NV200 model. It has a transparent, panoramic rooftop through which passengers can gaze at glittering skyscrapers, along with passenger-controlled rear lights, and sliding doors.

But in at least one one fundamental way the two taxis diverge: In London, all of the vehicles will be wheelchair-accessible. In New York, only a small fraction of them will be.

“London has the most accessible taxi fleet in the world with every licensed taxi being fully wheelchair-accessible,” explained John Mason, Transport for London’s Director of Taxi and Private Hire, in a statement emailed to Capital.

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In its recent press release unveiling the new vehicle, Nissan boasted that, “A particular focus was also placed on providing for passengers with mobility issues," and included a very supportive statement from Assist UK, which runs a network of homes for the disabled.

Contrast that with New York City, where only 233 of the city's more than 13,000 taxis can accommodate wheelchairs. The mayor's new taxi overhaul plan would put another 2,000 wheelchair accessible cabs on the street, but that plan is facing some serious legal hurdles at the moment.

Meanwhile, the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s very selection of a so-called "Taxi of Tomorrow" that cannot accommodate wheelchairs has left disabled advocates, and their political allies, enraged.

Comptroller John Liu has vowed to hold up the city’s contract with Nissan (though it’s not clear that's within his power).

“The Mayor should take a cue from our friends across the pond and ensure that the Taxi of Tomorrow is a taxi for everyone," said Liu's spokesman, Michael Loughran, in an email.

A spokesman for Taxis for All, a group of disabled advocates fighting for greater taxi accessibility, wondered why New York could not replicate London, where taxi accessibility has been mandated since 1989.

"If there’s a mandate for accessibility, then car companies will come up with accessible vehicles," said the spokesman, Joe Rappaport. "If there isn’t, then they won't bother."

The city is instead setting up a dispatch system so that wheelchair-users can call and request an accessible cab and have one promptly sent to them.

The city is also requiring Nissan to retrofit some NV200s to accommodate wheelchairs, so that, should those 2,000 wheelchair-accessible medallions that are part of the mayor's stalled borough taxi plan, materialize, cab owners can buy them. 

Also, according to the TLC, the London version will cost $60,000, while New York's will cost only $29,700.

“We love the fact that the London version will be using many of the passenger amenities that we achieved in the design process with Nissan, but its design and engineering standards are radically different from the vehicles we’ll be getting here in New York City," said Allan Fromberg, spokesman for the Taxi and Limousine Commission. "For one thing, it’s not ADA compliant."

According to the TLC, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires taller cars and more gently sloping entry ramps, to accommodate more kinds of wheelchairs, scooters, and the like.

"The bottom line is that, if the goal is to provide great taxi service to everyone who wants it, we’ve got that covered between the New York Taxi of Tomorrow, and the 2,233 wheelchair-accessible taxicabs that will be available through our new accessible dispatch system that lets people ‘hail’ an accessible cab five different ways—by phone, app, email, text or web site,” Fromberg said.