I keep reading about Lyft and Uber and all these fancy-pants technology companies trying to make taking a taxi suck less than it does.
From a logistics and payments side, yeah, there was definitely room for improvement. Queuing up rides, paying in advance, electronic receipt, and not a hoarse-sounding dispatcher in sight make the new ways of ordering up a cab really, really great.
What if you tried to improve a taxi in the 1970s, but apps hadn't been invented yet? You'd probably start with a laundry list of items for improvement on the actual cab, get a few designs going, and see how it all shakes out.
That's exactly what New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) set out to do in the 1970s, hoping to improve the quality of life in large urban centres in the process.
Alfa Romeo to the rescue!
Thankfully, much of the criteria for the taxi exhibition—The Taxi Project: Realistic Solutions for Today—has been digitally preserved. In 1976, MoMa's purpose was…
- To produce with the cooperation of the automobile industry, at reasonable cost, a taxi vehicle which would better serve the needs of the taxi industry, the drivers, and the passengers;
- To propose an expanded role for taxis as a supplement to existing mass transportation, in response to the need for an alternative to conventional transit and the private automobile;
- To demonstrate "paratransit" vehicles—taxis, jitneys, dial-a-rides, subscription services, etc.—are vital to the community in terms of the economy, the environment, and the conservation of energy, as well as efficiency and convenience.
The more things change, the more they stay the same—similar criteria to these were followed quite closely even a few years ago as New York evaluated a number of new taxi designs!
Originally, two American companies in addition to Volvo and Volkswagen were to complete prototypes based on the commission's design specs.
In MoMa's press materials, they call out Alfa Romeo specifically: "A third European company, Alfa Romeo, adopted the museum's design specifications for developing—on its own—a taxi for the European market."
With Giugiaro's Italdesign leading the development, the project was set in motion. Italdesign says that "the beauty of its shape was of secondary importance," which is to say it's a big yellow box.
Here's what they came up with:
- 2m² (21.5 ft²) of passenger floor space
- Overall dimensions 30 per cent less than a traditional cab
- Length of less than 4 metres (13 ft.)
- Seating for five passengers
- Excellent visibility
- "Plate-glass window in the middle of the roof treats the passengers to a panoramic view of the sky," something Nissan copied for the NV200-based cab
- Dual sliding doors
- Provisions for disabled passengers
Based on the Alfa Romeo A12 commercial van, I'm not sure if the New York Taxi featured the front-drive van's 52 horsepower 1300cc twin cam from the Giulia sedan(!) or with the optional 1760cc Perkins diesel.
Last year, Zac Estrada at Jalopnik did a story on the Alfa, running with the headline, "The 1976 Alfa Romeo New York Taxi was the real Taxi of Tomorrow," referencing the winning Nissan NV200T for the city's Taxi of Tomorrow design competition.
Could it have been the real taxi of tomorrow?
If it was adopted in the 1970s, what would the humble taxi look like today?
Most importantly, if you were late for a flight, would you trust an Alfa Romeo to get you there on time?