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From: "Ottawa Citizen newspaper, Ottawa, Canada"
Article published May 17, 2002

"British Icon rolls into Ottawa"

Murray Jackson assesses the unique London taxi.

If you like to keep a low profile, don't get in a London taxi.

This week, the Boston entrepreneur who hopes to distribute the iconic vehicles across North America brought one of the distinctive cabs to Ottawa.

After showing off the glossy black TXII model outside Ottawa City Hall and making a pitch to politicians, Larry Smith treated a fortunate few to a test drive in "the world's most accessible purpose-built taxi."

The reaction was remarkable. Other drivers risked rear-enders and whiplash as they tried to get a closer look. Pedestrians smiled or waved and. A young couple on Sussex Drive tried vainly to hail the cab for a ride. A Blue Line cabbie piloting his Chevrolet Caprice along Wellington Street offered a big thumbs-up.

As reported in Wheels on March 8 (Plenty of room for your wheelchair, guv), the London taxi is unique in catering to mainstream passengers as well as riders with special needs. All TXII's can accommodate a person in a wheelchair plus two other passengers. A curbside jump seat swivels outside the taxi's body to provide easy entry for elderly passengers and others with limited mobility. Grab handles and seat edges are bright yellow for easy recognition by the visually impaired. A driver/passenger intercom works on hearing-aid frequencies to assist passengers with hearing problems.

The TXII was engineered to provide maximum interior space in a compact package. Surprisingly, it is 810 millimetres (32 inches) shorter than a Ford Crown Victoria taxi. While three adults are a snug fit in the Crown Vic's rear seat, the TXII's rear bench seat and fold-down jump seats take five passengers. Its compact exterior dimensions couple with an amazing 7.6-metre (25-foot) turning circle to provide superb agility in city traffic.

London taxis have always been instantly recognizable. The TXII's design, a pleasing rounded box, retains some design cues of its predecessors. Build quality and body integrity are impressive; it is clear this is a vehicle designed for the long term.

Vehicle access is excellent, thanks to tall, wide doors and an overall height 380 mm (15 in.) greater than a Crown Victoria. A floor-to-ceiling height of 1.4 metres (54 in.) provides ample headroom for passengers; no need to doff your top hat while travelling to the opera. Stretch out and you will find that the TXII provides more legroom than a first-class airliner seat.

The easily adjusted driver's seat is comfortably supportive for 10- to 12-hour shifts. Driving controls are logically arranged and easy to use. The limited trunk space holds the spare tire and an auxiliary ramp for loading a wheelchair where there is no curb. Luggage goes in the front of the taxi, to the right of the driver.

The turbocharged and intercooled 2.4-litre Ford diesel engine is coupled to an automatic transmission with overdrive. With a curb weight of about 1,814 kilograms (4,000 pounds), this taxi won't win drag races. That said, the engine's power seems more than adequate for its intended duties

Underway, driver and passengers enjoy a comfortable and quiet environment. Large glass areas make outward visibility very good. Engine noise, often an issue with diesel, is quite acceptable in the TXII. The firm and well-controlled suspension cushions road shocks. Notwithstanding the tall design, body-roll during cornering is minimal.

Passenger conveniences abound, with separate driver and passenger controls for heating, air conditioning and lighting. The driver/passenger intercom can be switched off for private conversation. Mobile phones and laptop computers can be plugged into a convenient power outlet. There's even an integrated child safety seat.

The driver's compartment is equipped with a stereo system including CD player, a cupholder and other amenities intended to make a long day in the behind-the-wheel office as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

Mr. Smith said his company, London Taxis North America, has a "significant number" of orders for the base, Civilized Taxi model and the upmarket London Executive Sedan. Certificates of compliance with U.S. and Canadian regulations are pending, and deliveries to customers will commence soon after, he said.

While TXII has many more features than the North American cab, it also has a higher price-tag: $39,500 U.S. ($64,000 Cdn.) to start. It's available in a variety of colours and comes with a 24-month or 58,000-km warranty.

Mr. Smith says the initial price must be weighed against the taxi's unique features and a service life estimated at 800,000 km. In his presentation to Ottawa Council's emergency and protective services committee, he suggested the vehicle could be instrumental in Ottawa's attempts to improve transport options for mobility-restricted persons.

Obstacles to use of the TXII in Ottawa include resistance from the taxi industry, because of the TXII's price, and the need for changes to provincial regulations that now allow only van-type vehicles to be used as "accessible" cabs.

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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