Future London Taxi
How can we provide London with a ‘hyper’ inclusive taxi that meets the future needs of drivers and passengers of all ages and abilities?
By 2018, it is hoped that a new London cab will be on the roads; with significantly reduced emissions, the taxi will improve mobility around the capital and provide a cleaner, less polluted environment for city-dwellers. A ‘future London’ needs a ‘future taxi’, one that reflects the ethos and aspirations of an ever-growing and deeply diverse city. So how do you attempt to redesign something as iconic as the hackney carriage? Along with 1930s telephone boxes, Beefeaters, Big Ben and crimson pillar boxes they represent the city’s rich cultural heritage, but they also contribute to a stereotyped image of what London on the world stage appears to be – stuffy, old-fashioned, overly-occupied with upholding tradition and a little stale.
The Future Taxi project, a collaboration between the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, RCA Vehicle Design and Turkish vehicle manufacturers Karsan, is not about reinterpreting an icon but about designing the most inclusive vehicle possible – for the people of London. The RCA Future Taxi has been in development for almost three years, since the London Mayoral office’s call-out for a new zero-emissions alternative cab was made, and is designing against a number of other competitors.
Although the other car manufacturers have been influenced by the design of the existing hackney carriage, the RCA and Karsan have taken a position that acknowledges the need for a London ‘aesthetic’ but one that does not dominate the project at the expense of accessibility. They are designing a cab that really reflects what London is today. For the RCA and Karsan, London is a mixture of the classic and the contemporary; it’s as much about Chesterfield sofas sitting snug in Georgian houses as it is about a skyline of cranes building vast glass structures. The project is also inspired by events that changed the cityscape such as the 2012 Summer Paralympics which was dubbed the ‘greatest Paralympic Games ever’, with record breaking ticket sales and media coverage, and which was held for the second time in London. Then in 2014, the inauguration of the Invictus Games took place at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to great success.
To translate these sentiments and features into the Future Taxi is to take an entirely people-centred approach right from day one; to bring in the opinions of service users that have the most challenging mobility issues and really understand what would make travelling through London a much better experience. A key part of the research process has been the use of a ‘buck’ – a rough prototype that the Future Taxi team have created. They have been inviting wheelchair users, older couples, mothers with toddlers or pushchairs to help test the model out and offer input on the design of the interior.
Talking to Taxi
The team of vehicle designers, researchers and engineers were also able to do something other vehicle manufacturers hadn’t really thought of: they brought the taxi drivers into the conversation early on in the process. To design an inclusive vehicle is to take into account users who find moving around a challenge, but it is also to design with well-being in mind – that is, the well-being of the driver. The cab is essentially their office, place of rest, place of business, their canteen; incredibly long hours in a limited amount of space.
Understanding the drivers’ needs as well as those of a diverse group of passengers means that the RCA and Karsan are designing for both transient and static users which is a complex and sensitive task. But through co-creation and user engagement workshops, as well as a prototype that acts as a living, mobile lab, they are hoping to drive the project towards a Future Taxi for all Londoners.