New York’s more than 13,000 yellow taxi cabs are privately owned and operated. But the industry itself is strictly regulated by the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC). Beyond testing and licensing drivers, the TLC exerts significant control over which vehicles medallion owners can purchase. For the last decade, Ford’s Stretch Crown Victoria has stood as the industry standard, followed by Ford’s Escape Hybrid (a more environmentally-friendly option, despite being an SUV) and Toyota’s Sienna, which serves as a wheelchair accessible cab.

What Is The “Taxi Of Tomorrow”?

Five years ago, New York City’s former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced his plans to shake up the status quo. The problem, as expressed by Bloomberg, was that the Crown Victoria was never designed to be a taxi cab, it just happened to become the industry’s mainstay. What New York needed was a vehicle created specifically to meet the requirements of taxi drivers and passengers.

Bloomberg issued a challenge to car manufacturers: build New York a better taxi.

The Winner: Nissan’s NV200

In 2011, Bloomberg made his choice: Nissan’s NV200, a big yellow van, would be New York City’s taxi of the future. Here it is in all it’s glory.

The new cab’s enviable features include:

  • Passenger airbags in back seat
  • Sliding doors to prevent “dooring” pedestrians and cyclists
  • Anti-bacterial, non-stick seats
  • Climate controls for back seat
  • Air filtration system for the interior environment
  • Cell-phone charging stations
  • More leg and luggage room than a Crown Vic
  • Sun roof

They sound really nice.

The Taxi Industry’s Opposition

But right out of the gate, the Taxi of Tomorrow program encountered significant hurdles. Cab drivers hate the plan because it would force them all to purchase new cars. So they’ve found legal ways to fight back.

First, the Greater New York Taxi Association, a cab industry advocacy group, filed a lawsuit arguing that the Nissan NV200 violates an obscure statute within New York’s administrative code. The regulation requires NYC to “approve one or more hybrid electric vehicle models for use as a taxicab” and Nissan’s model doesn’t fit the bill. But, since the city already signed a $1 billion contract with Nissan, they broke the law in doing so.

In May of 2013, a judge in New York State’s Supreme Court agreed, ruling that New York had in fact broken a law by approving the non-hybrid Taxi of Tomorrow. One month later, the TLC passed new regulations, allowing cab drivers to purchase a hybrid alternative to the Nissan and effectively circumventing the Supreme Court’s decision.

Around the same time, the first of New York’s Taxis of Tomorrow left the production line of a Mexican factory and graced our city’s street. According to the New York Daily News, the first two hit New York City’s streets on October 29, 2013.

Drivers mounted a new defense, and filed another lawsuit in New York State court. This time, the Greater New York Taxi Association argued that Bloomberg lacked the authority to force medallion owners to purchase a particular vehicle at all. A state judge agreed, writing “the power to contract and compel medallion owners to purchase the NV200 from Nissan does not exist in the City Charter.” Then, the case was appealed and the earlier decision overturned.

As it stands, Bloomberg’s program is legal, and drivers can be forced to make the switch. But current mayor Bill de Blasio has been an outspoken opponent of the program, and the cab lobbyists won’t stop. The case is now being heard in New York’s highest court, the State Court of Appeals.

Even so, the vehicles are pretty popular, and there are about 40 on the road right now. More are sure to follow.

Does The Taxi Of Tomorrow Present Increased Injury Risks?

On Wednesday, November 19, 2014, the Taxi of Tomorrow came up against another critical roadblock: public safety. With three passengers, including a small child, inside, the sun roof of a Nissan NV200 broke, showering its occupants with glass. No one was injured, but the recent accident is likely to make the Taxi of Tomorrow more enemies than friends.

Update – December 22, 2014

In a rare example of official concession, Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed on to the Taxi of Tomorrow program. After Nissan threatened the city with a lawsuit for breach of contract, de Blasio has announced his official support, but not without several conditions.

Cab drivers will no longer be restricted to purchasing the NV200; they’ll also be able to choose from a selection of approved hybrids. And while they’ll still have to buy new cars, those will vehicles will come at a discount. Nissan has agreed to drop the price.

Officials have said that the Taxi of Tomorrow will account for around 80% of the city’s fleet.