In NYC, 'Taxi of Tomorrow' has dedicated lanes, pay-what-you-like scheme

Can we improve the city taxi cab? One inventor offers his suggestions, from the robotic to the autonomous to the shock-absorbing.

In many ways, the taxi cabs in cities don't get enough credit. They move a lot of people, particularly here in the U.S., where public transit systems aren't the primary mode of transportation in mid-size cities.

As I traipse around the globe, I've always got something to complain about. Why don't these taxis take credit cards? (Las Vegas.) Why does it cost me more fare to go a shorter distance? (Philadelphia.) Why can't I find one in the afternoon? (New York.) Why can't I find a taxi when I need one -- ever? (Paris.)

But the fact of the matter is, taxis, well, matter. And despite its residents' reliance on the public transportation system, the City of New York continues to advance its massive, 13,000-strong yellow fleet toward...well, something.

The New York taxi cab of 2011 is usually either a Ford Crown Victoria, Ford Escape Hybrid or Toyota Sienna. One is classic, one is clean (well, cleaner) and one is large.

But these options are still not optimal as people-movers; they can be more efficient. Which is why the city has rolled out a "Taxi of Tomorrow" contest, tasking citizens with suggesting a better way to get around while on the meter.

While the city explores bids for new vehicles made by Karsan, Nissan and Ford, residents are thinking aloud. Allison Arieff writes at the New York Times of one man's imaginative approach, which doesn't just rethink the vehicle, but its very purpose.

She writes:

What if the “tomorrow” part manifested itself not just in the object (the car) but in new initiatives inspired by the broad national movement toward collaborative consumption, like a taxi-sharing app that could help facilitate carpooling from J.F.K. [airport] into the city?

The result? One example: a bus-like compact vehicle that's electric and wheelchair-accessible, that has a dedicated lane on the street and a mission to move as many people as possible, through ride-sharing.

The cabs imagined by inventor Steven M. Johnson are novel, indeed: some are GPS-guided and robotic, others are round like bumper cars and designed to take the punishment dished out by fellow drivers. Others are simply pragmatic, such as a Smart Car taxi for short-haul Manhattan trips.

What do you want from your city taxi?

Taxis for the Future [New York Times]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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