FOR 15 years, Amarjit Singh has worked in relative anonymity, driving his 12-hour shifts in a New York City yellow cab. Now he is the taxi industry's version of a rock star, thanks to his MV-1, the only purpose-built wheelchair-accessible medallion cab in the city.
Since May, when Mr. Singh began driving the MV-1 that he owns with his brother, Vikrant, tourists have snapped photos and customers have deluged him with questions about its spacious interior and smooth ride. Other drivers have asked about its fuel economy, repair record and how it withstands New York's pocked streets.
"When I go to the airport, I have to prepare myself to be interviewed," Mr. Singh, who starts his shift at Kennedy International Airport, said with a chuckle. "Sometimes a taxi driver will drive up and ask me about this car and what kind it is."
Mr. Singh, though sheepish about his sudden notoriety, tells all comers that the MV-1 has a solid frame that provides a smooth ride, that its V-8 engine provides plenty of pickup and that it maneuvers well on the city's crowded streets. And by ordering his MV-1 outfitted to run on compressed natural gas, he had cut his daily fuel expenses by about a third compared with his previous cab, a Dodge Caravan.
The MV-1 has received high grades from mobility advocates working to improve taxi accessibility. Among its strengths is the positioning of the wheelchair ramp, which extends from the right side of the vehicle to the curb, a more convenient arrangement than a rear ramp.
"Everyone I know who's ridden in an MV-1 says it's a very smooth ride," said Jean Ryan, vice president for public affairs at Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York, who has tried out the cab's ramp. "I think it would be a great taxi, and for Access-a-Ride," the by-appointment program of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
There are only 233 wheelchair-accessible medallion taxi cabs in the city, so finding one can be tough. For riders with disabilities, cabs like Mr. Singh's hold the potential that one day they will be able to hail a cab on the street instead of reserving a ride in advance.
The arrival of a fleet of wheelchair-accessible cabs like the MV-1 may be years away, though.
This spring, the Taxi and Limousine Commission chose the Nissan NV200 as the Taxi of Tomorrow, the vehicle owners must buy, starting next year, when they replace their cabs. The Nissan has been billed as roomier and safer, but retrofitting one to carry a wheelchair costs about $14,000.
John Walsh, chief executive of Vehicle Production Group, maker of the MV-1, said his vehicle was a more efficient solution. Built at the plant in Mishawaka, Ind., where Hummers were once made, the MV-1 does not need to be converted for access. Ford supplies 130 components of the MV-1, including the engine and transmission, so spare parts should be readily available.
"Ours is the taxi of today, it can be ordered and delivered," said Mr. Walsh.
Acceptance of the MV-1 is hindered by its cost, even to owner-drivers like Mr. Singh who have taken advantage of the lower cost of wheelchair-access medallions. While a new cab typically costs about $30,000, Mr. Singh paid $56,000 for his MV-1, he said, including $10,000 for the fuel system conversion to compressed natural gas.
As part of the accessibility conversion, he had to remove a jump seat, leaving only three seats for passengers -- a factor that costs him some fares. And while Mr. Singh saves on fuel, compressed natural gas is sold at few stations, so he must drive farther to fill up.
The city hopes to sell 2,000 more medallions for wheelchair-accessible yellow cabs and up to an additional 3,600 taxi permits for wheelchair-acccessible vehicles for use outside Manhattan. A lawsuit by taxi fleet owners has prevented the sales, though. In addition, the city created a dispatch service that lets riders call for a wheelchair-accessible yellow cab using a smartphone app, a Web site, a text message or a voice call.
At least in New York, it may be paratransit agencies that lead the way in buying the MV-1 to take advantage of its sturdiness and maneuverability. A fleet of 30 is being tested by the Access-a-Ride program, which is looking to replace its 1,400 retrofitted vans.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.