- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

NEW YORK Send them back to the soccer moms.

The minivan, symbol of suburbia, can't cut it on the mean streets of New York, say a number of taxi fleet owners who are phasing out the vehicles. The minivan, they say, breaks down too often under pothole-pounding, round-the-clock cab driving.

"They just flat-out haven't worked out," said Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxi Cab Board of Trade, which represents 18 fleet owners. "Minivans can't hold up on city streets."

Allen Kaplan, vice president of Team Systems, one of the larger fleet owners with more than 300 cabs, said the minivans' frames "are not made for this type of work. We also have a lot of trouble with the doors and the hinges."

"The transmissions give us a lot of problems, and we see a lot of overheating engines," he added.

Mr. Kaplan, whose company bought 20 minivans in 1998 and has already retired six, said the remainder will be off the street in the next few months.

Diane McGrath-McKechnie, head of the city Taxi and Limousine Commission, said the minivan-cab should not be put on the extinct list just yet. Independent taxi operators, who own many of the city's 800 minivan-cabs, do not put them through as heavy use as fleet owners.

"You have two different standards," she said. "Cars that run eight or nine hours a day will react differently than cars that are on the road 22 hours a day."

Chevrolet spokeswoman Carolyn Norman agreed. "Minivans are not generally designed or engineered to be used as taxicabs," she said. "It's a family van."

Perhaps for the same reasons they appeal to suburban shoppers, the minivan cabs have been well-received by some customers since their introduction in 1996.

"If you come from the airport, it's perfect," said Elaiza Irizarry, getting out of a minivan taxi in front of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. "It's comfortable and you can see more of the city."

Jane Alexander, who was exiting a minivan on Fifth Avenue, said she wishes more of New York City's 12,000 cabs were minivans.

"The other day I went shopping and I wanted to take a bunch of bags home and I couldn't fit them in the regular-sized cab," she said. "I couldn't find one of those minivans."

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