By on July 29, 2011

Sorry for the delay on this one… Eight days ago, the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission approved the Ford Transit Connect for immediate use within NYC. Taxi-conscious TTAC readers will remember that this board rather controversially approved the Nissan NV200 as the Taxi Of Tomorrow a few months back. At the time, a source within Ford told me that “the battle isn’t over yet,” and this appears to be proof.

It seems reasonable that a few New York taxi fleet operators will load up on Transit Connects between now and 2013, when the “Taxi Of Tomorrow” is standardized. The Transit Connect is already providing good service in a few other cities and Ford had a parts infrastructure for it in place now.

To appease the nice folks at Nissan, who no doubt have their noses a bit out of joint at the threat to their guaranteed monopoly two years from now, the TLC has also approved non-hybrid Altimas for use in the city. Surely everyone now understands that this whole ridiculous process of “approving” vehicles is unnecessary, unwanted, and probably corrupted beyond the possibility of rescue.

This Transit Connect approval, combined with the livery-spec MKT, gives Ford a one-two punch to replace the Panthers currently prowling around New York City. Not that it really matters all that much: I cannot find any estimates of taxi/”black car” numbers in New York that exceed 20,000. Of those, 13,000 are taxis. How vital is it to sell 13,000 vehicles over the next ten years? That’s a month’s worth of Fusion sales, or ten years’ worth of Acura ZDX sales. Hey, there’s an idea! Introducing the Taxi Of The Distant Future: The Acura ZDX.

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45 Comments on “Transit Connect Is The “Taxi Of Today”...”

  • avatar

    The Panther is dead, so an opening has presented itself. Ford (and Nissan, and other automakers) are hoping that the taxi that NYC goes with will become the go-to taxi for other American markets as well.

    It won’t. NYC is unique in its taxi purchasing patterns in that taxi drivers and taxi companies actually buy vehicles new there. The only way that cabbies in, say, Baltimore will start driving Ford Transit Connect Taxis is if the Baltimore City Police Department starts driving around Ford Transit Connect Police Interceptors and then sells them off.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      “The only way that cabbies in, say, Baltimore will start driving Ford Transit Connect Taxis is if the Baltimore City Police Department starts driving around Ford Transit Connect Police Interceptors and then sells them off”

      This +1. I’ve seen ex-police Impalas being used as taxis in the Seattle metro area. The Seattle PD uses a number of Chargers, so I guess we’ll see those in taxi service in a few years around here.

    • 0 avatar

      Lots of people disparage the way that NYC sets taxi rules. But your point shows the wisdom of this approach. Here in NYC, you have a choice: you can ride in a reasonably new, reasonably well-maintained yellow cab with a meter or you can take your chances with one of the “black cars” that routinely try (illegally) to pick you up. The black cars don’t have to adhere to the same standards.

      I say good riddance to the Panthers. They have lousy ingress/egress, get awful fuel mileage and have trunks that are almost always useless. The Escape (one of the currently approved vehicles) makes a much better taxi from a passengers point of view.

      • 0 avatar

        Very true; I don’t often take taxis in Chicago, but when I do I wonder how they are held together. There are a lot of new Ford Escapes and a smattering of other new cars – even an Accord or two- but there still are a lot of very worn out panthers prowling around.

      • 0 avatar

        Black cars are just as regulated as yellow ones.

        I just don’t get these comments that the Panther trunk is useless. Some of the things that have went in the trunk of some of my Panthers.

        Large window AC unit
        Lawn mowers
        Subaru EA series engines
        Geo Metro engine
        IH SV engine block
        Chrysler transaxles
        GM transmissions
        8 5 gallon buckets of paint
        A bunch of concrete retaining wall blocks
        Complete set of oversized (255) tires, with spare still in it’s proper place.

        All was done with the trunk closed and since mine have had air suspension w/o the but dragging or the handling going all to heck.

      • 0 avatar

        I much prefer the gypsie/car-serivces over the yellow taxis. I’ve found that the cars are often nicer since a lot of times those cars are their private vehicles, plus you tend to get slightly better service and often less attitude.

        I know that yellow cabs have standards to follow, but that doesn’t mean they always follow them… the “standard” is for yellow cabs to have to take you to any of the Boroughs you want to go…..but good luck getting a guy to take to Brooklyn during rush hour…funny how they always seem to go on break at those exact times.

        The standards are also for them not to talk on their cellphone, not give you attitude if you pay with a credit card, be able to drive somewhere without you having to navigate the entire way, and generally not drive like total a-holes. If a cabby isn’t violating at least 2 of these standards at a time, they aren’t NY cabbies.

      • 0 avatar

        Some of the things that have went in the trunk of some of my Panthers.

        In many of the cabs I’ve taken the spare tire is, for some reason, never properly stowed so it takes up 1/2 the trunk.

      • 0 avatar

        How the heck are Panther trunks useless? Compared to what, a UPS van trunk?

    • 0 avatar

      Just running some quick numbers a typical big city taxi might use +$20k worth of gas a year at $4/gallon. Moving to a Camry hybrid could save them almost $1000 month.

      • 0 avatar

        It could, except replacing the engine and transmission with a working refurb in an ex-police Crown Vic or Impala will cost $1K-ish, whereas in a hybrid Camry or hybrid Escape it will cost $10K-ish (and likely require more labor which means more downtime). Ex-police cars also will have heavier duty suspension, cooling, and air conditioning systems. (Police duty isn’t too dissimilar from taxi duty, really, as far as the car is concerned).

        I see the occasional Prius taxi but the overwhelmingly vast majority of taxis around here are Impalas that used to be city police cars or Crown Vics that used to be county and state police cars. But again, NYC’s incredibly high population density makes the cab business different there, and some things make financial sense there that would not make sense in other cities.

      • 0 avatar

        It could, except replacing the engine and transmission with a working refurb in an ex-police Crown Vic or Impala will cost $1K-ish, whereas in a hybrid Camry or hybrid Escape it will cost $10K-ish

        Yes, but if you only need one every 5 years (if you’re doing 100k miles a year) you’d have saved 60k in gas. Does it have to do with the cabs being owned by company X and the fuel paid for by the driver who leases the cab? That would make sense as to why the medallion owners couldn’t care less about gas savings.

      • 0 avatar

        airisturtle, It’s going to cost a whole lot more than $1k to replace an engine or trans in a Vic or Imp even with a used one. On the plus side the 4.6 will last 350K w/o a problem but the 4r75w will usually only go somewhere in the 200-300K range. Which of course is why taxi and black car companies love the Panther.

    • 0 avatar

      Black cars don’t have to follow the same set of rules. And if you’ve only been in Manhattan, you’ve seen the cream of the crop. A trip out to the boroughs will let you sample some of the junkers that are barely operating. And trying to pick you up off the street is a violation. The one time I fell for it the charge quoted was three times the typical metered fare. They get a lot of tourists this way.

      I didn’t say that you couldn’t fit stuff in a panther trunk. The problem is that there’s almost always already a lot of junk in there to begin with. I often see two spare tires. Try to fit two suitcases in there with the wrong cab an you’re screwed. And then there’s the question of whether you want your nice bags co-mingling with some of the stuff back there. Vehicles like the Escape have their cargo areas as part of the passenger compartment and are better shaped, generally cleaner and much less likely to be vying for their moment of glory on Hoarders.

      • 0 avatar

        No the black car companies don’t have to follow the same rules as the yellow cars but they do have their own set of regulations which do include age and mileage limitations.

        You may be right though that with the fully exposed area in vehicles like the Escape that they may be less likely to be full of an extra spare and what ever other crap that some are carrying in their current car. Of course that like the dirtiness issue is more of a owner/operator caused problem than a downfall of a particular model.

  • avatar

    It seems to me a Hybrid Altima (or Fusion) would be a better choice as a NYC taxi than the non hybrid version. I don’t think hybrids are a silver bullet, but this is one application where they make sense.

    In Vancouver Prius cabs are common, but I think they are a bit cramped. The Altima, Fusion or Camry hybrids would address this shortcoming, and offer nicer interiors to boot.

    The Transit Connect seems like a good choice for a cab as well. It might make sense to offer the diesel version for this application – run it on biodiesel for instant “green” cred.

    I’m not sure the MKT makes sense as a Town Car replacement. I can’t see the “masters of the universe” getting ferried around in something that looks like a blinged out minivan. The Chrysler 300 “Executive” would make a better limo now that they have fixed the interior.

  • avatar

    It’s too bad that Ford doesn’t have a hybrid version of the TC ready yet. I agree with Penguin Boy that hybrids are appropriate in these conditions.

    I haven’t taken taxis in a long time, but I would think that the Nissan or the Ford delivery van style of cab would be much easier as a passenger, for ingress and egress. I’d bet they make it easy on handicapped passengers (when properly equipped), too.

    Credit where credit is due, good on Ford.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t Pete Estes involved in a project of some sort to make taxis out of VW Rabbits? Is this what he would have come up with?

    • 0 avatar

      @Carperson: You’re thinking of Ed Cole who was the former President of GM who bought into Checker Motors, the makers of the iconic Marathon cab, commonly thought of as “the” NYC taxi cab.

      Here’s this from Wikipedia:

      “In 1977, … retired GM President Ed Cole bought into Checker with the intent of re-energizing the company and developing a new, more modern Checker. Cole’s plan was to purchase partially completed Volkswagens from VW’s new Westmoreland Assembly Plant. Cole was going to ship the VWs to the Checker Motors factory in Kalamazoo, cut them in half, insert a section to lengthen the VW, raise the roof and then sell the reconfigured vehicle as a taxi. Shortly thereafter, however, Cole died when his plane crashed near Kalamazoo.”

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, and travelling further down the tangential rabbit hole, the Checker Motors plant was apparently recently demolished after they finally closed up the doors forever in 2009 (they had been making stampings for GM, that tooling got shipped up to Canada as part of the bankruptcy sale):

        A couple of weeks ago, I took the Google Street View of the plant and you can still see the it – I wish there was a way to capture that data for historical purposes, as I really like doing street-view tours of midwest towns to see where things used to be made (I am sad about the state of US manufacturing, however, as that was the engine of our economy).

        It simply amazes me that GM didn’t keep one plant open, making just the 1996 Caprice (and Impala SS) for police and taxicabs. There is certainly enough of a market nationwide to keep one plant going, they had plenty of empty plants sitting around, the tooling was paid for, and there was no shortage of GM assembly workers either. I just don’t get it.

      • 0 avatar

        @redmond: CAFE killed the RWD Impy. Plain and simple. Not unlike CAFE is forcing Ford to kill off the Panther (or at least not directly replace it).

        In order to comply with CAFE mandates back in the 90’s, GM was faced with a choice: Continue building a mix of relatively profitable B-bodies and highly profitable SUV’s & trucks, or build build many more highly profitable SUV’s & trucks, while complying with CAFE mileage regs.

        If you’re a stockholder, what would you have them do?

        Bye bye B-body.

        Ask me why I think CAFE should die…

      • 0 avatar

        CAFE killed the RWD Impy. Plain and simple.

        That makes it sound like a good thing.

        Then again, we can, er, thank CAFE for the PT Cruiser. LET’S HANG THE BASTARDS!

  • avatar

    “Some of the things that have went in the trunk of some of my Panthers.”
    “Have went”……?..whoa….I’m calling the Gramma PO-lice…..

  • avatar

    It’s always such a pleasure to jump into a brand new Crown Vic in the City, they are still buying them somewhere, and aside from Sienna, there is no other vehicle in NYC taxi fleet that comes close for comfort. Ford’s hybrid escapes are frigging torture chambers between the lack of space and horrible ride. Camrys and Altimas suffer because the “taxi” edition rear seat is too low to the floor.

    • 0 avatar

      there is no other vehicle in NYC taxi fleet that comes close for comfort. Ford’s hybrid escapes are frigging torture chambers between the lack of space and horrible

      You must be of average height? I’m 6’2″ and have much more room in a Camry – in a Crown Vic I have to practically fold myself in thirds to fit.

      • 0 avatar

        A lot of the NYC Crown Vic cabs are extended wheelbase, which have plenty of room. The shorties, not so much.

        Yesterday in Boston, I rode in an Escape Hybrid, which was a rattling, lurching, cramped pile of dog squeeze. The Camry hybrids in the Boston fleet seem to hold up much better and are more comfortable.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      There’s not much more legroom in a Crown Vic than a BMW 3-series or a Honda Civic. A Camry’s back seat is larger.

      And unless you are freakishly tall, a hybrid Escape taxi is not a torture chamber. I rode in one from JFK to midtown Manhattan two years ago and found it to be fine (I’m 5’10). Ride wasn’t pillow soft but much better than the cruddy little Prius cabs that are found in the Seattle airport taxi fleet.

  • avatar

    The ZDX was just approved by NYC but they are only allowed to ferry passengers in NYC’s fashion over function district.

  • avatar
    George B

    I see more Dodge/Chrysler minivan taxis than anything else out in the Dallas suburbs. Usually painted some ugly color to make sure everyone knows that it is a cab. Besides panthers and Impalas, I’m also seeing recent vintage upsized Camry cabs.

  • avatar

    Not to hijack the thread, but it seems silly that cab companies can only use “approved” vehicles. Why not leave it to the cab companies to decide?

    • 0 avatar

      Are You crazy? Of course the only people who can be trusted to make decisions are tax feeding leeches. Man, must you have flunked indoctrination! You probably believe car guys can run automakers without tax feeders controlling them too, don’t you?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Manhattan is the marquis taxi market in the US, and seems to influence the sales of taxi vehicles in many other areas of the country as well.

    Also, perhaps the auto makers are thinking of all the high margin replacement parts they might get to sell. Taxi cabs put on the miles fast, and New York’s streets and drivers are rather horrible. All that adds up to lots of parts sales! The aftermarket is chock full of Panther parts, but I suspect that the aftermarket isn’t nearly as well situated visa-vis Transit Connect parts.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr. K

      Look, the panther is dead.
      In time there will be loads of Transit Connect parts out there – guess what – Ford will work the system and the Transit will also be approved – perhaps it will take a bit but by 2014 it will be legit too.

      Once NYC gets down with the Nissan cab of tomorrow (NV 200)and the Transit other cities will adopt them. The sales to support a fleet of 13,000 NYC vehicles will be multiplied by the other NV200 fleets serving throughout the country and the Transit Connect fleets.

      When gas was 33 cents (I am that old) it was of no consequence. When gas was 2 bucks it was of minor consequence. When gas is 4-6 bucks (the range I predict for the next 10 years) it’s a big deal.

      There will be old charger and Holden Caprice cop cars as cabs in rural areas where there are long runs and low entry cost is critical, but in urban and suburban areas the new Ford and Nissan cabs will be it.

      What will keep big old style cabs on the road? Same thing as in Europe – diesel.

  • avatar

    People keep mentioning the advantages of hybrids Camrys and Altimas for taxi duty.

    Sounds good on the surface, but have any of you ever seen what the battery pack does to the trunk space in most sedans?

  • avatar

    I just saw a girl with truly massive sweater-cannons at the cafe I’m in.

    *And it reminded me,

    @Jack, Can you please tell us another story? :D

  • avatar

    Not to hijack the thread or anything, but it’s about taxis, right? NYC taxis? And somebody mentioned Checker, the longtime NYC taxi. Well, I noticed the Checker logo on the Ford Transit photo, and though Checker Motors finally sold its headquarters last January, don’t they, or their creditors, still own the logo? Or did Ford, or the people who painted the Transit, think it was just up for grabs?

  • avatar

    Here in Seattle and its environs, I see late model Dodge Caravans, the last of the older bodies that date back to the early part of the last decade, Prii, lots of Crown Vics, yes, most being ex police interceptors and I’m sure I’ve seen the old Caprices still in some fashion and I think I’ve seen the occasional Montana as a taxi and who knows what else.

    While we have Yellow Cab here, we also have Orange Cab and a slew of other companies and I think there are regulations here to ensure proper service and safety and to ensure compliance to taxi rates and such.

  • avatar

    It will be fun to follow the backlash against the Connects when they start falling apart. In my workplace TC’s go to the scrapyard before they reach 150000 km.

  • avatar

    given Bloomberg’s constant attempts to make NYC greener, I’m surprised that the vehicle of choice isn’t a hybrid. the Escape hybrid makes for a great taxi for NYC.

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