In the recent Wired article "Taxicabs 2.0, by and for New Yorkers", a reader comments about the TX4, a spacious, wheelchair accessible, fuel efficient and reliable vehicle. The reader goes on to say that it's street legal in the U.S. and the only reason we don't have tons of them in NYC already is that the mandatory retirement rules for NYC cabs make the built-to-last TX4 too expensive for the short time it can legally be used.
~ The TX4 ~
I can't say much about New York City's mandatory retirement rules for taxis, but there's one huge thing I can say: The TX4 could kill several birds with one stone, including helping the MTA out of their budget deficit! The MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority), the overseers of New York City's Subways, Busses and a program known as ACCESS-A-RIDE.
Access-A-Ride is expensive and generally mismanaged. It uses huge vans which have to be reserved by persons needing handicapped-accessible rides before 5:00pm the day before by making a telephone to a special operator. A co-pay is expected to be paid by the passenger (I think it's the same as a subway fare of $2.25). There are all sorts of restrictions based on the individual needs of the Access-A-Ride user and accessibility of the nearby busses, subway stations and/or handicapped-accessible subway stations. Generally, most people can use Access-A-Ride for door-to-door service for inter-borough transit (i.e. Manhattan to the Bronx). To add further complications to this set-up, Access-A-Ride vans are known to sometimes be hours late for pick-up or drop-off. Imagine if you were dependant upon Access-A-Ride to get you to a Doctor's appointment! Quite frustrating and expensive for the city to operate!
If we were to change a good percentage of NYC Taxis over to the TX4, this would enable a regular taxi to chauffer around persons of special needs (pushchairs, wheelchairs, etc.) -- now take the idea a little further and consider replacing Access-A-Ride with a voucher system in where anyone with special needs (and on an Access-A-Ride budget) could use their vouchers to pay for reduced, negotiated fares in regular taxis whenever they like, on-the-fly!
I'm sure there are a few bugs in my idea, as I am not an Access-A-Ride user, but I think something like this would be a win-win for many New Yorkers and for the MTA!