New York City’s “Taxi of Tomorrow” doesn’t fly, drive itself or talk to passengers. Its new display across the street from Manhattan’s iconic Flatiron Building looks decidedly practical compared to the science fiction glamour of Google’s small fleet of self-driving cars in San Francisco. None of that, however, has stopped a steady stream of curious New Yorkers from checking out the concept vehicle, scheduled to take over for the city’s fleet of 13,000 yellow cabs starting in late 2013.

Visitors climbed into the roomy backseat mockup of the Nissan’s NV200 prototype — winner of the Taxi of Tomorrow contest — so that they could experience a virtual ride through New York City’s streets as one of its 600,000 daily taxi riders. Features include improved leg room and head room, space to fit four large luggage pieces, a mobile charging station with an electrical outlet and two USB plugs for personal gadgets such as smartphones, and a transparent roof panel with excellent views of the city’s skyscrapers.

But a cab driver who stopped by talked about the need to tackle basic issues: approval codes to deal with finicky credit card readers that may reject multiple cards from riders; and a usable GPS navigation for drivers, rather than a system that simply tracks taxis for the city.

“They’re not thinking about anything with the driver in mind, and that’s a problem for me,” said David Graves, a New York City cabbie. “That’s why every time I see a new innovation I approach it with full skepticism, because the changes that they make are only in response to the pressures from the [NYC] administration.”

Going green gets tough

Despite the Taxi of Tomorrow’s name, a chat with Nissan representatives revealed more urgent real-world considerations than futuristic flights of fancy. One surprise: New York City requires the Nissan taxi to have the off-road capability to deal with its streets, especially when more potholes appear during the winter.

The Nissan taxi would have a fuel efficiency of 25 mpg compared with 12 mpg for the Crown Vic taxis that still make up a majority of the Big Apple’s cabs. But it represents a step down from the 34 mpg achieved by the city’s hybrid Ford Escape taxis.

That doesn’t rule out a plug-in electric upgrade for the taxi someday. Nissan has teamed up with New York City to roll out a pilot program with six fully electric Nissan Leaf cars for testing in 2012, as well as charging stations to support them.

Cab creature comforts

The early taxi concept shows an attention to detail that may reflect its “design by committee” approach. Nissan has sought opinions from NYC’s Taxi & Limousine Commission, individual and fleet owners of cabs, and riders groups. Its representatives have also gotten input from exhibit visitors, including a number of cabbies such as Graves.

The climate-controlled interior of the Nissan taxi automatically resets itself to room temperature at 72 degrees F (22 degrees C) whenever passengers leave. Antimicrobial seats and sponge-cleanable surfaces make for a cleaner taxi ride. Similarly, a filtering system removes smells and allergens.

Ceiling and floor lights combine with a unique floor pattern to allow passengers to spot a dropped black glove or phone, and solid seats ensure that nothing can roll underneath.

The vehicle’s safety features include curtain and seat-mounted air bags for passengers. Sliding doors could ensure fewer accidents with pedestrians, bicyclists and other motorists for whenever passengers climb in or get out.

Handicapped riders can expect Braille on interior handles and a larger interactive passenger touch screen. About 800 vehicles will have the ability to carry wheelchair users, compared with the city’s 200 existing taxis that have that capability.

View from the front seat

The driver’s compartment is not part of the current exhibit, but Nissan representatives said the front passenger seat would be capable of folding down to provide a work space. That configuration also provides a better view for the back-seat passenger on the right side.

Graves suggested folding back seats so that people could lie down and sleep. “I pick up drunks,” he explained to the Nissan representatives. “I don’t have to.”

The cabbie also expressed surprise at the vehicle’s $29,000 cost because it seemed like a low estimate. Official statements by New York City and Nissan have said that the price tag would include all the standard features.

InnovationNewsDaily asked Graves about anything else he might want to see in an ideal taxi cab.

“A driver massage chair,” Graves said. “We work long — that’s a 12-hour shift.”

The Taxi of Tomorrow exhibit runs through Nov. 5.

This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily.

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