A taxi revolution is underway in Nottingham - and local Mercedes-Benz Dealer Mertrux Truck & Van is in the forefront of the drive to raise standards.
The first Vito Taxi to be supplied by Mertrux was presented at a launch event in the city's Old Market Square, to mark the introduction of new, eco-friendly cabs, and a smartphone app for passengers.
Nottingham City Council says its fleet of more than 400 licensed hackney cabs must meet either Euro 6 (cleanest diesel) or Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) standards by 2020. The average age of the vehicles currently plying their trade on its streets is 16 years, and many were bought second- or even third-hand.
Mertrux has now taken eight orders from Nottingham cabbies for Vito Taxis, while a number of others have also expressed a keen interest in a vehicle that combines highly competitive running costs with style and exceptional comfort.
One of only four Dealers authorised to sell the official Mercedes-Benz Vito Taxi - it was appointed late last year - Mertrux operates from a smart new showroom and fully-equipped workshop in Wilford, Nottingham, as well as headquarters in Derby and other branches in Leicester and Mansfield.
In addition to its advanced engine technology, the Vito Taxi offers unrivalled levels of space and refinement for the driver and up to six passengers, and is fully wheelchair accessible. Standard equipment includes fuel-saving BlueEFFICIENCY measures, air-conditioning for driver and passengers, electric folding mirrors, electrically-operated sliding doors on both sides, and an electric near-side step.
Kaleem Ashraf was the first Nottingham driver to take delivery of a Vito Taxi in the new black-with-white-roof livery which has been introduced as part of the re-branding, to replace the traditional green. A 114 CDI model, it offers a 136 hp output which is transmitted to the rear wheels via a smooth-shifting, seven-speed 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic gearbox. The National Vito Taxi is also available in front wheel-drive form, as the 109 CDI with 88 hp powerplant.
As a representative of Unite the Union, Kaleem Ashraf has made the cabbies' case in negotiations with the licensing authority over the introduction of the new rules. The agreement reached means that Euro 6 vehicles can be driven in Nottingham until 2030.
The City Council is committed to a strategy of emissions reduction to improve air quality and support any potential Clean Air Zone, and determined to bring Nottingham's taxi service up to the standards of its world-class integrated public transport system.
Head of City Centre Management & Regulation Richard Antcliff acknowledged that drivers would have to make substantial investments in new vehicles if they wished to retain their licences. However, he said the resulting fuel cost savings, coupled with the promise of increased earnings arising from the introduction of the free mytaxi smartphone app, would help to offset these costs.
mytaxi puts customers just two taps away from a licensed taxi, while enabling drivers to attract more passengers. Owned by Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler, it is Europe's largest e-hailing app, and used by 80% of black cab drivers in London. Nottingham is the first UK city outside the capital to introduce mytaxi, which guarantees safe, reliable, convenient and cost-effective travel with skilled and knowledgeable drivers.
"There are various shades of opinion within the taxi community but there is also a general consensus that something had to be done," said Mr Antcliff. "The trade needs to improve its image, and that means modernising and moving forward in terms of technology."
Commenting on the part that Mertrux and Mercedes-Benz will be playing in this process, he added: "The Vito Taxi is a fantastic vehicle. Would I want to take my family to the airport in one? Absolutely! It's premium, business class transport."
Kaleem Ashraf has signed-up to a flexible, low-cost Agility funding agreement with Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, which offers a range of options at the end of the term and will enable him regularly to update his vehicle. Like his fellow Nottingham cabbies who have also placed orders with Mertrux, he has added various options such as LED lighting, and taken out a Mercedes-Benz Service Care maintenance plan.
"Mertrux attended a roadshow for the drivers last summer and I had an opportunity to drive a Euro 6 Vito on that occasion," recalled Mr Ashraf. "So I knew what I was getting and was very confident I'd made the right decision.
"Now that I've taken delivery of my own vehicle, though, I'm finding that it's even better than I remembered. The Vito is incredibly comfortable compared to my old, traditional cab, while the automatic transmission makes the job so much easier after a manual 'box. Features such as the engine stop-start system also help to ensure that it ticks all the 'green' boxes."
He added: "A lot of drivers are still worried about how they're going to afford a new taxi and that's perfectly understandable given the substantial costs involved. There is also an appreciation, however, that we have to move with the times.
"For my part, I'm excited about the introduction of the mytaxi app. It should give me access to more customers who are readily available, so I don't have to rely on the unpredictability of street hailing. It's great to see investments like this being made in the knowledge and skills of black cab drivers outside of London too."
Like all Mercedes-Benz vans, the Vito Taxi comes with a three-year, unlimited mileage manufacturer's warranty and MobiloVan cover, which includes free, round-the-clock emergency roadside assistance.