The Tesla Model 3 has gotten the OK to don the famous yellow and black paint of a New York City taxi cab.
The Model 3 joins a list of about 40 different vehicles, including numerous variants of some models, that have been approved to join New York City’s taxi fleet. The Model 3 is the only car on the list that is fully electric, although there are a number of hybrid cars in use.
There are no Teslas in use as New York taxis yet and no way to say, at this point, when we might actually see a Tesla Model 3 cab. Generally, cars only get a TLC certification when requested by an individual or fleet company.
There are Teslas already being used as “for hire” cars in New York City, said Allan Fromberg of the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission. Those cars, which do not have the distinctive bright yellow paint and rooftop lights of a taxi and are not allowed to pick up riders who wave for them in the street, are held to a different set of rules than taxis. “For hire” cars could be Lyft or Uber cars or work for any of the so-called “black car” limousine services in New York. The requirements for those cars are somewhat less stringent than those for yellow cabs.
Among other things, to qualify as a New York City taxi cab, a vehicle has to meet minimum requirements for interior space, it must have air conditioning for rear seat passengers and space to install the clear partition that separates the passengers in the backseat from the driver. The seats also have to be covered in easy-to-clean material like vinyl.
Once approved, a car can then be “hacked up,” or have all the equipment installed to make it into a taxi cab. That includes the required paint job, exterior lights and signage, the taxi meter, and interior partition.
A small number of Nissan Leaf electric cars were used as New York cabs in an experimental program that ended in 2015. In its final report, the Taxi & Limousine Commission noted that drivers had to significantly alter their driving habits to work around the vehicles’ relatively short range, especially in hot weather which required the air conditioner to be used. Those first-generation Nissan Leafs only had an EPA-estimated range of 84 miles, though. The roomier Tesla Model 3 has a range of at least 220 miles.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that there would be self-driving Tesla taxis by some time next year. That probably won’t be in New York, though, since state traffic laws require a driver to have at least one hand on the steering wheel at all times. Having to pay a licensed driver to sit in the car, even if the person is not actively driving, would do away with any business benefit of having a “driverless” cab.