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From: "Ottawa Citizen newspaper, Ottawa, Canada"
Article published March 8, 2002

"Where to, guv?"

Can the legendary London taxi be transplanted to the streets of Ottawa?

By Murray Jackson

Imagine. An Ottawa taxi arrives to take you to the airport. You settle into a comfortable seat in a clean and spacious passenger compartment, separated from the driver by a full partition. There's more legroom than in a first-class airline seat.

Once you're settled, you adjust the temperature and lighting to your preferences. You chat with the driver over an intercom that can be switched off if you prefer peace and quiet.

A fanciful notion? Not if canny U.S. entrepreneur Larry Smith has his way. The founder of the Boston-based Finagle a Bagel chain is determined to introduce the legendary London taxi to North America.

Mr. Smith has been sold on the distinctive vehicles since discovering during a vacation that a London taxi could easily accommodate his entire family and luggage - something no Boston taxi could do. An idea was born and, less than two years later, this energetic businessman is the president of London Taxis North America (LTNA), a company established to distribute and sell the British cabs in the U.S. and Canada.

Mr. Smith says that the London taxi - specifically the TX1 built by London Taxis International of Coventry, England - is "the only purpose-built hire vehicle in the world today. It will change the fabric of transportation in any city."

London's licensed taxis are familiar icons to residents and tourists. Their specifications have been regulated since the days when horsepower really meant "horse" power. Since the first motorized London taxi appeared in 1897, various manufacturers have produced vehicles built to conform to rigorous standards including a 25-foot (7.6-metre) turning circle. 

In recent years, the London taxi of choice has been the TX1. Introduced in 1997, this model perpetuates the design cues of previous generations while incorporating an array of modern and unique features.

In the TX1, the comfort and safety of passengers is paramount. A partition provides driver security and passenger privacy. The driver/passenger intercom works on hearing-aid frequencies to assist the hearing-impaired and can be turned off to allow private conversations. Passengers have full control of heating, air-conditioning and lighting. Seating capacity is five persons, three on the rear bench seat and two on flip-down jump seats.

For the driver, the TX1's ergonomic controls and seat permit fatigue-free shifts of 10 to 12 hours. The vehicle's service life is estimated at 800,000 kilometres) and a two-year/160,000 km) warranty is provided. The taxi's 2.4 litre, direct-injection, diesel engine is turbocharged and intercooled and is designed to provide good fuel economy and a long service life. All body panels, except the doors, are bolted to the vehicle to facilitate quick and economical repairs.

But it's the TX1's ability to accommodate people with disabilities that could make it a success in North America.

All TX1s are wheelchair-compatible; pull-out ramps are included and the vehicle will accommodate a wheelchair passenger plus two other passengers. The curbside jump seat swivels outside the taxi's body to provide easy entry for mobility-impaired or elderly passengers. For visually-impaired persons, grab handles and seat edges are bright yellow for easy recognition.

One enthusiastic supporter of the "accessible cab" concept is Ottawa councillor Jan Harder. She'd like to see TX1s in service in Ottawa alongside the Ford, Buick and Chrysler sedans traditionally favoured by Ottawa cabbies. The London taxis could serve the mainstream market as well as complementing Para Transpo.

Still, putting a London taxi on the streets of North American cities is no small feat. The TX1's predecessors were tested in New York and Philadelphia in the 1950s and Toronto in the 1960s. In the mid-1980s, taxis without powertrains ("gliders") were sent to The London Coach Company in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, where Ford engines and transmissions were installed. None of these ventures was able to entice North American taxi drivers.

Among other obstacles facing Mr. Smith's company, U.S. and Canadian safety standards had to be satisfied, not to mention the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. A daunting challenge, but one he says will be met by the end of April, 2002.

To date, LTNA has invested over $4 million U.S. The company will soon open a distribution centre and flagship dealership to service its home market in Boston and other areas in New England. In addition to vehicles, parts and service, the company plans to offer driver training. Taxi prices will start at $39,500 U.S. ($64,000 Cdn.) and a number of confirmed orders have been received.

In Ottawa, Councillor Harder acknowledges that hurdles lie ahead, including possible resistance from the local taxi industry. Also, enabling legislation would be required as current provincial regulations allow only van-type vehicles to be used as accessible cabs.

Ms. Harder suggested that educating potential drivers and users about the advantages of these vehicles is an important step in their acceptance. LTNA plans to demonstrate the TX1 in Ottawa during the Tulip Festival.

Hanif Patni, the new owner of Blue Line Taxi, is no stranger to London taxis as a result of his past involvement with the Computer Cabs company in the British capital. He acknowledges their special attributes and believes that, as the nation's capital, Ottawa should "lead by example" in providing first-class transportation for mobility-restricted persons.

Mr. Patni noted that Para Transpo's service is useful but sometimes inconvenient because of the need to book ahead. He suggested that a certain number of accessible taxis should be available in Ottawa, based on demand, and that there should be incentives to encourage taxi drivers to purchase and use these vehicles.

Taxi drivers aren't enthusiastic. Chahid Zeidan, chairman of the union representing Blue Line taxi drivers, says "the time is not right" to introduce the TX1 into the local taxi industry.

Mr. Zeidan recognizes the need for specialized taxi service in Ottawa but considers it unlikely that Ottawa taxi drivers will be able to afford these vehicles. He noted that the recent decision to limit the age of Ottawa cabs to six years has increased drivers' costs and hurt their incomes.

Despite the obstacles, LTNA has a well-organized business plan and its accessible cab is unique - two elements missing from previous attempts to transplant London taxis to these shores. With luck, these ingredients will create a recipe for success in the North American market.

Murray Jackson is an Ottawa automotive enthusiast, journalist and the creator of the Motor-Cross™ automotive crossword and the Motor Mania automotive pop quiz. Murray's puzzles and feature articles are published in CanadianDriver and a growing number of Canadian and U.S. newspapers and automotive publications.

Copyright© 2002
. Reproduction prohibited without permission of the author

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Laatst bijgewerkt op: 03 december, 2018


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