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Mark Izeman’s Blog

Will the NYC Taxi of Tomorrow Be the Taxi of Yesterday?

Mark Izeman

Posted April 3, 2012

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taxi final.jpg

Nearly seven years ago, the first hybrid yellow taxis rolled onto the streets of New York City as part of an effort to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. Today, about 5,000 of these cleaner, greener taxis—nearly 40 percent of the total fleet—are in operation, working to cut air pollution, lower noise levels, and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. The city’s hybrid taxi program was one of the first of its kind, and has served as a model of urban sustainability for other cities around the country.

But these cleaner cars could soon become obsolete when -- and if -- New York City’s new “Taxi of Tomorrow” hits the streets.  Last spring, Mayor Bloomberg announced that the Nissan NV200 was the winner of the City’s Taxi of Tomorrow competition.  And today in New York City, Nissan is scheduled to officially unveil the NV200 Taxi prototype, which is slated to become the new standard.  

The initial NV200 vehicle design, despite safety and other enhancements, is a conventional, non-hybrid vehicle.  Thus, based on air emissions and fuel efficiency, it is unquestionably a step backwards environmentally compared to the hybrids already on the road.

But all hope is not lost.

Concurrent with the introduction of the NV200s, the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) will also launch a pilot program to test six all-electric Nissan LEAF cabs.   And, as announced last year, one factor is choosing the NV200 was the prospect of Nissan’s ability to produce an all-electric NV200 by 2017.  Indeed, Nissan is seeking to position itself internationally as the leading car manufacturer of electric cars.

As things now stand, however, the contract between Nissan and the City on the Taxi of Tomorrow fails to include clear language relating to the eventual manufacture of these cleaner vehicles.  Further, we believe that details included in the current contract have the potential to actually block the introduction of strong hybrid or electric-only taxis into New York City’s fleet.

Removing the current hybrid taxis without ensuring that equally green, or greener electric taxis, could eventually take their place, would be an environmental loss for the city.  

There is no question the NV200 is indeed an improvement over the iconic old-standard, gas-guzzling Crown Victoria, which averages a mere 14 miles per gallon.  Mayor Bloomberg also deserves credit for notably promoting the use of hybrid vehicles in the city’s personal fleet.

But at the end of the day, introducing the non-hybrid Nissan NV200 without an opportunity to pivot down the road to strong hybrids and electric cabs would indicate that the promise of New York City’s taxi program as a sustainable leader may be fading.

Still, we remain hopeful that in their remaining negotiations, TLC and Nissan can still find a way to ensure that the final agreement offers a path forward to cabs that are class leaders in low emissions and fuel-efficiency. 

This result would make the NV200 a true Taxi of Tomorrow.

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TBDApr 4 2012 11:24 AM

what mgp is the non hybrid version. Seems like really relavant information for this article.

Adam AstonApr 4 2012 12:53 PM

this is really discouraging: not even a hybrid!? two questions:

* do you know if this new taxi program eliminates the flexibility that drivers/fleet owners have had in recent years to buy vehicles other than the official taxi?

* the city has seen its efforts to mandate high mileage vehicles blocked twice or more in albany of US courts, if i'm not mistaken. is this the result of those deadends?

Mark IzemanApr 4 2012 03:27 PM

TBD -- the official number for the Nissan NV200 model they unveiled yesterday is 25 mpg. By comparison, the Ford Escape hybrid, which is one of the main hybrid taxi models now being used in NYC is official listed at 34 mpg. The smaller Toyota Prius is listed at 48 mpg, and some drivers report 50 or higher mpg. Hybrids also emit significantly less air pollution than conventional cars.

Adam --1) Yes, the NV200 would be the only vehicle taxi drivers could purchase once the Taxi of Tomorrow program takes effect.

2) Past NYC efforts to mandate hybrids/MPG in the taxi fleet were twice rejected by the federal courts. Thus, the City did not require a minimum mpg requirement when soliciting bids for the Taxi of Tomorrow. But, as I raise in my blog post, the final city contract between Nissan and TLC should make sure to ALLOW for strong hybrids and electric versions of the NV200 down the road, even if strict mandatory language could be problematic under the court rulings.

Heather ShepardApr 5 2012 10:09 AM

I am also concerned the NYC Taxi of Tomorrow progam fails to account for the existing hybrid adoption among cabs. Hybrid taxi owners who were early adopters should be rewarded, not penalized by having to switch to a less fuel efficient and potentially more expensive vehicle. This is not good business economics in addition to being a poor environmental choice. While it is exciting to consider EV use in taxi fleets, the fact is that there is not yet a suitable vehicle on the market. The LEAF would require at least two fast charges a day in a taxi application which may not be supported by the OEM/battery warranty. San Diego considered a 5 LEAF taxi pilot last fall and concluded that the available EVs weren't suitable for taxi use in addition to the lack of adequate fast charging infrastructure. This will come in time as consumer use of EVs is more widespread and more charging infrastructure is deployed. In the meantime the appropriate comparison for the NV200 is versus hybrid cabs --not Crown Vics. Thanks to New Yorks' early efforts and the successes of hybrid cabs in cities such as San Francisco, hybrids are the new standard against which to compare future vehicle technology improvements for taxi fleets.

MPGomaticApr 7 2012 09:37 PM

What about CNG powered cabs? Their tailpipes are cleaner than any gasoline powered hybrid and they use only domestic fuel. They have greater range at a lower cost when compared to electrics. CNG can come from lots of Eco-friendly places (to avoid the inevitable fracking objection). There are super cool MV-1 taxis in the lower floor of the NY Auto Show right now … I've also seen CNG powered Ford Transit Connect taxis.

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