Brand-new, purpose-built London taxicabs could soon be giving US fare payers an alternative to the old Ford Crown Victorias and Chevrolet Caprice Classics — often used police cars retrofitted with meters and internal barriers – that are common there ever since the big Checker disappeared, the New York Times (NYT) said.

The NYT said the London cab is a “civilised taxi,” according to the website of London Taxis of North America, a Boston-area company trying to supplant the tired taxis of the United States and Canada with new British models.

The NYT said that Larry Smith, an entrepreneur in Sudbury, Massachusetts, founded the company in 2000 and has exclusive rights from London Taxis International in Coventry, England, the major maker of London cabs, to market and distribute its taxis in the United States and Canada.

Smith this month told the New York Times that he had orders so far for nearly 70 of the cabs, from taxi and livery companies in Toledo, Ohio; Naples, Florida; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Sun Valley, California; and Ottawa.

Smith added that he was working to meet American environmental and safety regulations, and expected to receive his first taxis from Coventry by December, the NYT said.

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American serviceman in Britain during World War II were renowned for monopolising taxis. A Giles cartoon from the early 1950s affectionately recalled that by showing London ‘cabbies’ hugging each other with glee as US bombers streamed overhead back to new British bases after the Cold War began to warm up.

That’s probably why the NYT said this week that, since WWII, London taxis have earned a reputation as the world’s finest due to their roomy, comfortable passenger cabins with high ceilings and more leg room than a first-class aircraft seat.

The NYT also admired features of the newest models such as doors that open 90 degrees for easy entry, fold-out ramps for wheelchairs, built-in toddler seats and seats that slide out onto the sidewalk to help elderly or handicapped passengers get in and out.

The newspaper also notes that the passenger cabin has its own heating and air-conditioning controls (though ‘air’ is still rare in UK-operated cabs) so customers can be in charge of the environment, an interior intercom system that allows clear communication between driver and passengers and a driver’s seat designed to be comfortable and offer the correct ergonomic support for someone who has to sit in it for 10 hours a day.

Price has apparently hindered American cab companies from putting UK-built taxis on US roads, the New York Times said.

The paper applauded the London taxi’s 500,000-mile design life, fuel-efficient diesel engines and simple and durable parts but said the initial cost of between $US40,000 and $45,000 is steep when a used Crown Victoria can be had for as little as $5,000.

Scott Shaffer, president of City Cab in Los Angeles, told the New York Times he could buy two new Crown Victorias for $12,000 with the help of government subsidies for new cabs that meet current emissions standards.

“The cost is an impediment to saturating the market,” Shaffer told the NYT, but he added that he’s nonetheless placed an order with Smith’s company for six London taxis to add to his 400-taxi fleet.
“I’d love to have 10% of my fleet be London taxis,” Shaffer told the newspaper. “They are unique and eye-catching. It will set me far apart from the competition.”

Though not the first to try selling London cabs in the US, Smith believes, according to the NYT, he can sell enough cabs to taxi and livery operators so that they’ll become familiar and then begin to help sell themselves.

But the NYT added that Smith is taking a cautious approach to New York City, the cab capital of the world, and wants to refine his products and methods before he takes on Manhattan in three years.

“We don’t want to fail in New York,” he told the New York Times.