Saying the 2011 Ford Transit Connect Taxi "fits the bill," the city of Boston this week became the first municipality in America to approve the versatile cab for taxi use, paving the way for taxi owners to purchase the new vehicle for their fleets.
"We're very impressed with the Transit Connect," said Mark Cohen, director, Licensing Division, Boston Police Department. "It's the closest thing to a purpose-built vehicle for taxi use that I've seen in 25 years."
Boston, the 10th largest metropolitan area in the United States, regulates which types of vehicles can be used as taxicabs in its city streets. To be approved for taxi use, a vehicle must meet basic size requirements for headroom, legroom and cargo space.
"The size, shape and configuration of the Transit Connect make it comfortable for both driver and passengers," said Cohen. "When the Ford Crown Victoria goes out of production next year the taxi industry here in Boston and throughout the country is going to be looking for alternatives. I think the Transit Connect Taxi fits the bill."
The roomy, flexible interior of the Transit Connect – 2010 North American Truck of the Year – is perfectly suited for taxi service. Its open architecture provides excellent interior headroom and passenger visibility and, with 6.5 inches of ground clearance, passengers step easily through the sliding doors.
With its standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine and automatic transmission, the conventionally powered Transit Connect is expected to deliver an estimated 30 percent improvement in fuel economy versus many of today's traditional taxis.
Because taxi operators also asked for a version that runs on alternative fuels, Ford is offering new engine prep packages that allow conversions to both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied propane gas (LPG).
"The vehicle's cargo area easily accommodates CNG tanks directly behind the second-row seat, still allowing ample luggage storage," said Gerald Koss, Ford fleet marketing manager.
Both CNG and LPG lower taxi fleets' operating costs and are better for the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, CNG is less expensive and burns cleaner than gasoline, resulting in 30 to 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions. Propane also burns cleaner than gasoline.
Built on a dedicated commercial vehicle platform tested to meet Ford's light commercial vehicle durability standards, Ford's new Transit Connect Taxi also features a wiring upfit package, vinyl flooring and standard third-row windows – all of which are factory-installed.
"We really tailored the vehicle to provide comfort and convenience for both driver and passengers," said Chief Engineer Rob Stevens.
He and Koss spent a good part of 2009 taking the Transit Connect Taxi concept to taxi owners and operators in major markets across the United States, gaining valuable feedback that helped Ford further refine the taxi.
"We moved the rear seat back three inches, added a grab handle for passengers to get in and out of the vehicle, and we installed a ventilation unit to heat and cool the second row," said Stevens. "We also added vinyl seats, which taxi operators said they wanted because of their durability."
Technology on the go
Ford's taxi business for decades with the Crown Victoria and Escape Hybrid – also is collaborating with Creative Mobile Technologies (CMT) to integrate premier payment processing and passenger information technologies in the taxi, including an 8.4-inch electronic infotainment and navigation screen that shows cab fares, news, weather, sports scores and stock ticker. The passenger can select programming, following the taxi's route on a map and scroll through a list of points of interest.
Ford and CMT also are developing strategies for potential integration of Ford Work Solutions™, a suite of productivity technologies for business owners providing a wireless in-dash computer with full high-speed Internet access and navigation.
"Ford continues to invest in fuel-efficient new engines, deliver more technologies and product features in our vehicles, and listen to what people – including taxi fleet operators – really want," said Mark Fields, Ford's president of The Americas. "Ford is committed to offering new solutions and maintaining our leadership as America's No. 1 taxi company."