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Four Tales of New York City Cabbies

Kamil Kaluski October 3, 2012 All Things Hoon 26 Comments

In the past few months I have spent a lot of time in New York City for various personal, professional, and even Redusernab-related reasons. Each time I was there I was in somewhat of a hurry and have decided to utilize the city taxi system over the excellent subway system. In almost each ride I managed to talked to the cabbie about the car he was driving and other cars which are currently available.

Currently the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission is in kind of an experimental phase. With the death of the beloved Panther and before the mandated standard cab from , the Commission has allowed for some rather unconventional vehicles to wear the iconic yellow paint. Here is a look at three of those new vehicles and one classic, the Ford Crown Victoria.

Ford Crown Victoria:

  • Loves how it drives, presence on the road.
  • Thinks that the front bench and rear seats are more comfortable than the newer cars.
  • It is cheap and easy to fix, can be serviced at any of the many 24/7 garages.
  • It can take a lot of abuse in terms of potholes, curbing, etc. and won’t fall apart.
  • Does not like the 13-14 mpg fuel usage.
  • Heard that batteries on hybrids are expensive to replace

Toyota Highlander V6 FWD:

  • This is the first cab I have ever seen in NYC that did not have a partition. When I asked about that the driver said that it’s just him driving it and is therefore not required.
  • He does not like the poor gas mileage at 14mpg.
  • He did not buy the hybrid version because he heard that batteries on hybrids are expensive to replace.
  • At 80,000 NYC miles, there were no breakdowns or other work outside of regular service and/or minor warranty issues.
  • In terms of driving, he likes the room and higher sitting position.
  • The driver is a 25-year veteran, owns car and medallion. In the past he has owned Crown Victorias but he started on a ’87 Caprice. He says he works Monday – Friday, 8am-5pm, and has never worked a weekend or a night. He had two kids in college and has no problems pay for everything. He owns a house in Queens.
  • He has to sell each car after four years and always gets decent money for his cars. The cars, desite the mileage and the abuse, always end up as cabs in other places.
  • He makes a point to take great care of the car and it shows.

Ford Escape Hybrid:

  • This driver gets swapped out between cars often. He does not like the cramped “cab” (because of the partition) of the Escape.
  • He feels like the Escape does not enough power.
  • Because of its overall size and sitting position, it is easier to drive than Crown Victoria.
  • However, he still prefers Crown Victoria.
  • He gets about 20mpg in the Escape.
  • He heard that batteries on hybrids are expensive to replace

Toyota Camry Hybrid:

  • This was a brand new car.
  • The owner/driver loves it; the size, the fuel economy, and the quality.
  • He did not hear a bad thing about the batteries before the purchase.
  • He says that because these hybrid Camrys have been out for some time, parts are easy to get and work is quick, but had no issues yet.
  • He said that the Crown Vic was too big and too heavy, and had horrible gas miles.

partition-free toyota highlander nyc taxi

 

  • Van_Sarockin

    The Highlander cabbie is a real outlier, owning his own cab and medallion, and in making a real career out of driving a cab. I wish you'd asked him more about that.

    It also sounds like there's a healthy rumor mill going, that doesn't necessarily have too many facts getting in the way of conventional wisdom.

    I've ridden in some hybrid Camry and Previa cabs, and they are a huge step up from the cramped backseat of a Crown Vic with a blown out front suspension.

    • I had a long convo with him as we were stuck in some midday mid-town traffic. Whatcha want to know?

      • Van_Sarockin

        lots of little things. Not to worry. A year or two ago, the Taxi and Limousine Commission released a great report about the cab industry. There's also some good graphics done about cab usage. The taxi industry is this very interesting space between mass transit and personal cars, and it gets very little attention.

  • dwbf11

    Too bad you did not have a chance to sample the Lexus RX350 Hybrid cab that rolls around!

    • Some time in the late 90s, or perhaps early 00s, there were a few diesel Mercedes E-class around. Common for Europe, not so common here.

      • There were a few Peugeot 404 and 405 NYC cabs in back in the 70s/80s.

        • That must have been fun!

        • Van_Sarockin

          IIRC, they didn't last very well. Maybe the mechanics couldn't figure out how to maintain them? I know that Honda vans were also being used at one point, but I think they got beat to death quickly. Every now and then, someone tries to introduce a new vehicle, and they usually don't last, even the London Taxis.

  • Fred

    We have the Camrys in Boston and there's no room in the back with the partition. Basically a 2-passenger cab.

    • Yup, I live in Boston and take them all the time. There are a Subaru Outbacks and Ford Flexes too but I never got them.

  • Kogashiwa

    In Winnipeg Priuses are almost all you see. I guess the in-town fuel economy makes up for any battery costs and then some. Or maybe more likely they're retired before the battery expires.

    • Scandinavian Flick

      That was my impression as well. I wouldn't think a cab would have a service life longer than the battery warranty period. According to Toyota's site for the Prius: "Hybrid-related components for hybrid vehicles are covered for 8 years/100,000 miles. The HV battery may have longer coverage under emissions warranty. Refer to applicable Owner's Warranty Information booklet for details."

      • Usually there is a totally different warranty for "commercial service". Not sure if that is the case with Toyota. I know when Chrysler had the "lifetime powertrain warranty" they excluded taxis but did not exclude cars bought by businesses for salesmen,etc. My dad got cursed with a Dodge Caliber company car due to this. 200k miles later it still drives just as bad as it did when new.

        • Scandinavian Flick

          In California, and the states that follow CA's emission laws, (NY included) the warranty on hybrid batteries is extended to 10 years/150k miles. I found a few sites that confirm this, but nothing siting the specific law yet… I would imagine, since it's a state law, it would include all vehicles sold in that state, commercial or otherwise.

          • Scoutdude

            Yes the emissions warranty applies to all vehicles. With the Prius the aftermarket replacement battery packs have came down significantly and used ones can be had for pretty cheap too. Now with the Camry and Highlander that is likely a different story since they have not sold in anywhere near the numbers

        • Scandinavian Flick

          Found it (Warning: PDF file):
          From here (Fair warning: Autoblog link): …

      • Scoutdude

        Hard to say how long they'll keep a Prius but outside of NYC Panthers in Taxi and Town Car duty are not normally retired until they reach at least 300,000. In NYC they are retired by law at 4 years which for a company cab that sees multiple drivers in a day often equates to over 200,00 miles.

  • Rkw

    Worst smelling cab ever I've been in was a Prius in San Francisco. Can't even describe the smell other than "unforgettable."

    • Not so much the car, but I was once in a cab with a driver who had a very substantial BO. I'm sure the car absorbed it too, Seinfeld style.

    • SF is also home to the worst smelling bus rider I have ever come across as well.

  • The Highlander shown is either a Hybrid or had Hybrid wheels installed.

    NYC and SF have tested hybrid cabs for quite a while, and it seems that the issue of replacing batteries has pretty much turned out to be a non-issue.

    In San Diego, it's pretty much all Crown Vics or Prius Vs.

    • The shown Highlander is not the one I was in, except for the interior pic. I had the idea for the article as I was about to go into the Port Authority on 42nd, which is where I took all the pics.

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