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Autos on Monday | Design

Imagining the Taxi's Future, With a Nod to Checkers Past

Published: November 14, 2005

ONE day, flagging down a taxicab may take nothing more than pushing a button on your cellphone. That enticing solution to an everyday challenge of city life is among the many proposals offered in "Designing the Taxi: Rethinking New York City's Movable Public Space," an exhibit that opened on Nov. 3 at the Manhattan gallery of Parsons the New School for Design.

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Illustrations courtesy of Parsons the New School for Design


A "smart" partition would display location and accept fare payment.



A sign for following vehicles.

The suggestions to improve the city's taxi fleet, which range from thoughtful touches like built-in child seats to ambitious new vehicle designs that include glass roofs and back-seat satellite maps, came from two workshops held last spring in which drivers, owners, city planners and designers offered ideas for a yellow-cab makeover.

Proposals from the project, a collaboration between Parsons and the Design Trust for Public Space, can be seen in a display of drawings at the gallery at 2 West 13th Street, on view through Jan. 15.

"A whole retooling of the back seat experience is under way and is starting to reach fruition," Matthew W. Daus, chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, said. "This is the perfect timing for the Design Trust's work."

The show's concepts for all-new taxis won't replace today's fleet, which includes 12,000 Ford Crown Victorias, anytime soon. But some details from the design exercise would quite likely be popular with cab riders immediately.

Vacant or Occupied? Your Answer in Plain Language

With a quick glance, those savvy in the ways of the city can decipher the code of a cab's rooftop lights to determine whether it is occupied, vacant or off-duty. But it is not so obvious to the many tourists who visit the Big Apple each year, and even eagle-eyed New Yorkers may find it hard to tell if a taxi is available when bright sun overwhelms the lights. One proposal to make spotting an available cab easier calls for enlarging the signs and using L.E.D.'s, or light-emitting diodes, to spell out a literal description of the cab's status. The messages might also be color-coded for quick recognition.

Mod Dsgn, Grt City Vu

Riding inside today's cabs, passengers miss some of the best sights of this vertical city. But this proposed design, with its fishbowl roof, gives riders an unrestricted view overhead. For privacy, the roof is one-way glass; inside, a console with a built-in digital camera lets visitors capture favorite views and make prints. The seats are raised to give passengers a better vantage point.

Bigger Than It Looks

Cabs are sized for maximum loads - say, a family flying off to an overseas vacation - but there is just one passenger in nearly 70 percent of all taxi trips, according to the New York City Taxicab Fact Book. The MiniModal concept, at 67 inches wide and 80 inches high, is narrower than a Honda Civic but taller than an Odyssey minivan. It seats two plus a passenger in a wheelchair; without a wheelchair, a fold-down seat accommodates two more people.

Channeling the Checker for a 21st Century Cab

Inspired by the classic Checkers that dominated New York City taxi fleets for many years - the last one was retired in 1999 - this design marries the signature checkerboard graphics and bulbous styling of the old models with new-age conveniences. Instead of swinging out into traffic lanes, the doors would open from the center, sliding away from each other.

The front passenger seat faces rearward, so a person sitting next to the driver is not excluded from back-seat banter. The front seat also folds, providing more legroom for rear-seat passengers or extra space for large packages when a shopping spree has already filled the trunk.

More Than a Barrier

In June, the Taxi and Limousine Commission requested suggestions for materials, designs and technologies that could be incorporated into new taxicab partitions. One proposal recommended a back-seat monitor that would display a cab's speed, location and estimated arrival time using global positioning satellites. The monitor would also display traffic conditions so passengers would know why the driver was heading to the tunnel instead of the bridge.

In addition, the panel would house conveniences like a payment system that accepted credit cards or a MetroCard transit pass. Other possible features to make life easier for business travelers would include wireless Internet access and an electrical outlet to charge cellphones.

Exit Stage Right

In this proposal, a lighted rear display would alert other drivers when a passenger was entering or exiting the taxi. At the same time, an interior panel on the partition would warn exiting passengers not to open the door into the path of a pedestrian or bike rider. Of course, none of these warnings would stop drivers to the rear from honking as a passenger fumbles for cab fare.