Why you should care

Because who doesn’t like the idea of a low-stress, plugged-in cab ride?

There are certain things you take for granted with New York City taxicabs: bilingual drivers, blaring horns and speeds that range from butt-clenching to snail-paced. But the latest taxis rolling out in NYC seem to be aimed at the high-tech traveler … but without a change in fare. We’re talking transparent roof panels, USB ports to charge your devices, a “low-annoyance” horn and a two-way intercom system that connects to the driver.

These are Nissan’s NV200 taxis, which are replacing all retiring yellow cabs starting in April. More than 550 already roam NYC’s streets. Peter Bedrosian, senior manager for product planning at Nissan, told OZY that they were created in response to the city of New York’s request for a “taxi of tomorrow” that would offer passengers a better experience. One insight he shared from the company’s research: a desire to make communication between the driver and passenger better. The intercom system is an offshoot of that — a way to “give passengers privacy.” It can be turned off with a button press, giving the rider a “premium ride experience, like a limousine.” So all those X-rated convos can be on the DL, but your advice for beating midtown traffic gets transmitted straight to the driver. An integrated hearing coil loop blocks background noise, and the intercom experience provides a sense of luxury. Yes, Jeeves, I am in a rush.

A button illuminates “Call 911” lights on the front and rear of the vehicle that can only be seen from outside the cab.

Allan Fromberg, deputy commissioner for public affairs for the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, says the intercom will “add clarity and ease” to passenger/driver communication. For him, the key elements are “passenger safety, comfort and convenience.”

Gear Diary automotive expert David Goodspeed test-drove the car last year; he found the cab’s technology easy to use and the intercom responsive. His standout feature: the driver’s integrated emergency button that illuminates “Call 911” lights on the front and rear of the vehicle and can only be seen from outside the cab.

This sounds good, but is Nissan really ahead on the taxi game? After all, the London TX4 black cab has featured an intercom since 2006, and The Global Times reported that these models were imported to Shanghai in late 2014. No clear roofs or USB ports, though, so NYC still wins out.

Besides, does an intercom make passengers safer? None of the cabs are equipped with video cameras (though they do have a rearview camera). Bedrosian says focus groups didn’t request them, and Fromberg says they have not been approved for use as a security enhancement. That seems like an oversight, since cameras hold all parties accountable. In fact, Crime Science Journal found that cabs with video cameras have a reduced driver homicide rate.

But, hey, there’s more legroom for all — and the NV200 drivers get custom seats to reduce back pain and allow them to sit longer. And then there’s the antimicrobial seat material, which allows vomit to be easily washed away (this is NYC, remember). A happier driver means happier passengers, so hopefully it’s a win-win.

Over and out.

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