Access 2 Mobility

Just before Christmas, the first batch of Nissan NV200 taxis made wheelchair-accessible by BraunAbility, of Winimac, was delivered to New York City.

The customized taxis developed by the northern Indiana-based Braun Corp. addresses New York City’s longtime debate over increased access to accessible taxis in New York City. A year ago, a law was passed there requiring 50 percent of all the city’s taxis to be wheelchair-accessible by 2020.

Braun expects to eventually provide about 7,000 Nissan wheelchair-accessible taxis for New York City, with the product in development for three years before its launch last year, according to Jake Craig, national accounts manager for BraunAbility’s taxi sales in North America

“We’ve been gearing up for this for some time,” Craig said.

In those years, Braun has been transitioning personnel for the project with a dedicated production line in Winamac which will deliver as Nissan demands, he said. New employees will also be added as demand dictates.

“Washington, D.C. is pushing for it (50 percent taxis wheelchair-accessible) now and Philadelphia will be a hot spot in the next year or so,” Craig said.

While Braun has no exclusivity with Chicago’s taxi fleets, a great number of the wheelchair-accessible taxis in Chicago have been Braun produced, he said. He expects Chicago will be upping its percentage, now at 20 percent, in the next, few years as well.

BraunAbility employs more than 800 people in Indiana, with most at its headquarters and main production plant in Winamac. It employs 200 other people around the world.

In 2013 it announced plans to invest $7.5 million more in its Winamac production plant to convert additional Dodge, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota minivans. It also installed a new production line to convert trucks and SUVs.

The BraunAbility customized Nissan NV200 taxis become part of the Taxis of Tomorrow program set to start in April by the New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission. It calls for most retiring taxis to be replaced with Nissan NV200s and to significantly boost the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis in the fleet.

Based on the Commission’s guidelines, the Nissan NV200 will be the sole option for Manhattan yellow taxis not being replaced by a hybrid or an alternate wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV), Nissan spokesperson Travis Parman said. Nissan opted to work with BraunAbility, the global leader in automotive mobility, he said.

According to Braun’s Megan Wegner, Nissan’s NV200 is a compact cargo van already on the streets of New York City. BraunAbility made it accessible by providing a rear-entry ramp that folds away when not in use, so the vehicle can be used by both disabled and non-disabled passengers.

April Cheung of BraunAbility’s research and development team led the project.

The rear-entry ramp allows wheelchair passengers to safely enter and exit out of the way of busy New York City traffic. It has an integrated restraint system to quickly and easily secure wheelchairs and scooters.

Parman said the Nissan taxi is the only taxi that leaves the factory with the installed partition designed to ensure no safety features are compromised by after-market installations.

Braun Corp. was founded by Ralph Braun who grew up in Winamac and was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy and in a wheelchair by 14 years of age. He died in 2013 at the age of 72.

Born into a family of men with their heads under the hood of a racecar or working on a motorcycle, Braun did what came naturally. He first developed a battery-powered scooter to increase his mobility and later a wheelchair lift for his van. By 1973 he established his business and a factory in Winamac.

When disabled Vietnam veterans began coming home, Braun focused efforts on wheelchair lifts and dropped the scooters. Braun’s legacy continues to drive BraunAbility and The Braun Foundation. For more information, visit www.braunability.com.

Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the company founder.

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