New York Auto Show – In person with the Transit Connect Taxi
By Igor Holas
We have already written about Ford’s new Transit Connect Taxi Concept, so we won’t bore you with all the specifications, details, and Ford’s pitch for the car again. All those details, along with a gallery of official images can be found HERE.
After reading about the Transit Connect and the new Taxi concept, I finally had a chance to experience this new vehicle in person. Ford had total of three Transit Connects on display in New York, all of them in fancy hypothetical outfits – one as a Jazz band vehicle, one as catering delivery van, and finally one as a futuristic New York cab.
Read more after the Jump.
The taxi takes the traditional requirements of a good taxi, forgets about the “tradition” built up by the Crown Victoria, and utilized the full potential of the tall and spacious van. It is hard to appreciate the small footprint of this car until you see it in person. While it is about five feet tall, it only takes up as much space as a compact car – significantly less than the Crown Vic, or the Sienna, two most popular New York cabs. Like the Sienna minivan, the Transit Connect provides easy entry and seating position without the need to dive into a low slung seat and scoot. Despite the small outside dimensions and the divider between the driver and the passengers, there is plenty of space for riders’ legs and feet.
The seats are reasonably comfortable, and would be fine for three adults on a ride to the airport. Behind the passengers is a huge open cargo space that bests anything available by the Crown Vic or the Escape. The space of almost perfectly rectangular, maximizing its utility, and is accessible by two swing-open doors.
Despite these improvements, the main innovation of the Taxi concept is in front of and above the passengers. The Transit Connect Taxi Concept was outfitted with two giant glass-roof panels that compete with Edge’s Vista roof for the ‘wow’ effect. From the hood, up the windshield, all the way to above and behind the passengers’ head, the ceiling is a continuous glass surface interrupted only by two thin crossbars. There is no need of explanation just how loved this feature would (will?) be by tourists just arriving to New York, LA, or Hawaii, being able to immerse themselves in panoramic views of their destination.
Another innovative feature of the Transit Connect is the divider between the driver’s cabin, and the passenger space – it is made entirely of a single piece of Plexiglas. Unlike the old dividers with only a small window, this new divider helps the car feel spacious, welcoming, and once again make the cab less of another necessary evil on the way there, and more of a part of the trip. The divider is equipped with a touch screen information center which could display weather, news, sports results, and stock quotes, accompanied by a fare display. The display also integrates a magnetic card reader and payment interface.
While I completely understand the demonstration-only purpose of this concept, I would like to suggest two additions to the interface: tourist-focused information on tonight’s events or shows, perhaps even with an interface for purchasing tickets on the go, and a GPS map. Cabbies might object to the latter addition, but the ability to see your position on a real-time map would definitely help ease the worried of being taken for ‘sightseeing,’ and the map could once again be enriched with tourist-focused information, such as restaurants, sights, and events nearby.
The driver’s workspace is definitely different from the old Crown Victoria, with a more upright seating position and taller cabin. The top of the dash is completely flat and level so it can serve as a shelf, there is another sizeable shelf above the driver and passenger, and the passenger seat folds down when necessary to serve as additional work space. This thoughtful and user friendly interior is nice, welcome departure from the outdated and thoughtless interior of the Crown Victoria, but once again, the true innovation is elsewhere. With Ford’s new Work Solutions built-in computer, Ford showcased a prototype of a built-in fare meter. Besides the fare, the computer includes hands-free calling, full access to the internet, and a GPS map.
We at Autosavant have been singing praises for the Transit Connect since even before it was officially announced for US market, and we will not stop just yet. The little van from Europe is incredibly versatile, and the Taxi concept showcases yet another market that could be served, and served very well by this Swiss army knife of cars.
Unfortunately, however, as good as the Taxi concept is, it is a no-go for New York. Mayor Bloomberg insists that starting next year all livery and cab vehicles in New York deliver at least 25 mpg; the minimum grows even further (to 3 0mpg) in 2010. The Transit Connect is powered by a small 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine, but with its weight, shape, and four-speed transmission, it delivers only 19 miles per gallon in the city, and 24 miles per gallon on the highway. That is decent for a medium-sized van/SUV, but not enough to satisfy Mr. Bloomberg. Ford submitted the concept for the City’s Cab of Tomorrow prize, but I am certain there will be no non-hybrids among the winners. While the New York City cab market is large, it is not the only one, and hopefully the rest of US, and perhaps outside the US, the Transit Connect Taxi can deliver on the concept’s promises.
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