NYC Yellow Cabs

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Sat 23 Jul 2011 20:30
The Taxicabs of New York City

The taxicabs of New York City, with their distinctive yellow paint, are a widely recognised icon of the city. Taxicabs are operated by private companies and licensed by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. The Commission is a New York City government agency that is best known for its responsibility for the more than 13,237 taxis operating in the city. It also oversees over 40,000 other for-hire vehicles, including "black cars", commuter vans and ambulettes. "Medallion taxis," the familiar yellow cabs, are the only vehicles in the city permitted to pick up passengers in response to a street hail.





Late 1890's - The Electric Era: The first taxicab company in New York City was the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company, which began running 12 electric hansom cabs in July 1897. The company ran until 1898 with up to 62 cabs operating until it was reformed by its financiers to form the Electric Vehicle Company. The company then built the Electrobat electric car, and had up to 100 taxicabs running in total by 1899. 1899 also saw a number of notable firsts for the Electric Vehicle Company. On the 20th of May 1899, Jacob German, driving an electric taxicab received the first speeding ticket in the US. Later that year, on the 13th of September, Henry Bliss became the first victim of an automotive accident in the US when he was hit by an electric taxicab as he was helping a friend from a streetcar. By the early 1900’s the Electric Vehicle company was running up to 1,000 electric taxicabs on the streets of New York City until, in January 1907, a fire destroyed 300 of these vehicles which, in conjunction with the Panic of 1907 caused the company to collapse. 



Nike designed a "taxi cab" trainer



Early 1900’s - The Checker Cab: In 1907, following the collapse of the Electric Vehicle Company, horsedrawn cabs once again became a primary means of transport around New York City. In early 1907 Harry N. Allen, incensed after being charged five dollars ($113.66 in 2010) for a journey of 0.75 miles, decided "to start a [taxicab] service in New York and charge so-much per mile." Later that year he imported 65 gasoline-powered cars from France and began the New York Taxicab Company. The cabs were originally painted red and green, but Allen repainted them all yellow to be visible from a distance. By 1908 the New York Taxicab Company was running 700 taxicabs. Within a decade several more companies opened business and taxicabs began to proliferate. The fare was 50 cents a mile, a rate only affordable to the relatively wealthy. By the 1920’s, industrialists recognized the potential of the taxicab market. Automobile manufacturers like General Motors and the Ford Motor Company began operating fleets. The most successful manufacturer, however, was the Checkered Cab Manufacturing Company. Founded by Morris Markin, Checker Cabs produced the large yellow and black taxis that became one of the most recognisable symbols of mid-20th century urban life. For many years Checker cabs were the most popular taxis in New York City.


1930's - Medallion System Introduced

During the Great Depression New York had as many as 30,000 cab drivers. With more drivers than passengers, cab drivers were working longer hours; additionally, there were concerns regarding the maintenance and mechanical integrity of the vehicles. In considering how to handle the situation, the city considered creating a taxi monopoly. The plan was abandoned after Mayor Jimmy Walker was accused of accepting a bribe from the Parmelee Company, the largest taxi company. In 1937 Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia signed the Haas Act, which introduced official taxi licenses and the medallion system that remains in place today. The law limited the number of licenses to 16,900, but the number dwindled to 11,787, a limit which continued until 1996 when the TLC added 133 cabs. Since then more medallions have been added to the fleet with the current total being 13,237 medallions.

Because the medallion system artificially restricts the number of cabs, it has been criticised as a barrier to entry to the taxi market that has created a market for illegal taxicab operation in areas underserved by medallion cabs. Because the cost of leasing a medallion is so high, the system may cut into the income of drivers and raise costs to passengers. On the other hand, some transportation analysts contend that cities with no barriers to entry to the taxi market end up with an abundance of poorly maintained taxis. They say that a medallion system helps the city to better regulate taxis and enables the city to raise the standards of all taxis.

The medallions which could not be sold for a simple $10 renewal fee during the 1930's are now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with fleet medallions topping $600,000 in 2007. Over the years, many medallions once owned by individual drivers were sold to large taxi fleets. To preserve the opportunity for individual drivers to own and drive their own taxi, certain medallions were designated for owner-operators. These cabs must be personally driven by the medallion owner for 210 nine-hour shifts per year, after which they can, if the driver chooses, be leased out. Corporate medallions, on the other hand, cost more, and are required to be leased double shifts, 365 days a year. About 29% of all taxis are owner operated, the rest are leased. We took a cab with a young chap at university, he was Turkish. He told us that he leased his cab on an 'odd day here and there' to help with tuition fees; once he had taken $150 in fares he began to earn for himself.


1960’s - Yellow Cabs: In the 1960’s New York City experienced many of the problems of social unrest that engulfed other American cities. Crime rates increased along with racial tensions. As a result, a quickly growing industry of private livery services emerged. Unofficial drivers were barred from picking up people on the street, but they readily found business in under-served neighborhoods.

In 1968, New York City ordered all "medallion taxis" be painted yellow to help cut down on unofficial drivers and make official taxicabs more readily recognisable and easily visible. The wife of the president of New Departure, Nettie Rockwell, particularly liked the color yellow and it therefore became the color of the new Rockwell taxicabs. The Rockwell Service Cab became the Yellow Taxicab when Mrs. Rockwell selected that as her choice of color for the auto.





2000’s - New computer technologies, hybrid vehicles, and diesel vehicles

In 2005, New York introduced incentives to replace its current yellow cabs with electric hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape Hybrid. In May 2007, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a five-year plan to switch New York City's taxicabs to more fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles as part of an agenda for New York City to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the plan was dropped after Cab companies complained that the cost of maintaining the new hybrid vehicles vastly outweighed the tiny amount of fuel savings they got from going smaller. A bumpier ride and a more cramped cabin were also noted as negatives by passengers. Not only that, but passenger safety also became an issue with the newer vehicles, and 6 months after the program took effect, it was dropped. Still, the proportion of the taxi fleet made up of Ford Crown Victorias has dropped over time. It now stands at approximately 60%.

From September to December 2007, many of the taxis participated in a voluntary public art project called Garden in Transit in which flower decals painted by children were affixed to the hoods of taxis.

The TLC has mandated that by the end of January 2008 all taxis should be equipped with a Passenger Information Monitor (PIM) that is a screen in the backseat that can provide entertainment, a live GPS map of location, and be used to pay for rides by swiping a credit card. The drivers will have an electronic Driver Information Monitor (DIM) in which messages can be sent to them informing them of traffic conditions and facilitating retrieving lost objects.

Several taxicab drivers objecting to the cost of the devices (estimated at between $3,000 and $5,000 each) staged voluntary strikes on September 5 and 6 and October 22 in 2007. The city implemented a “zone pricing” structure during the days and the strikes had minimal impact on the city according to officials.

Originally, before October 2007, NYC Yellow cabs displayed the fare stickers in the front doors and the Words "NYC Taxi" and the medallion number on the back doors. On September 30, 2007, all of the yellow cab decals were redesigned. Now, the cabs are easily identified with the medallion number followed with a checker pattern on the left and right rear fenders, a futuristic fare panel on the rear doors, and a retro "NYC Taxi" logo on the front doors.

As of February 2011 New York City had around 4,300 hybrid taxis, representing almost 33 percent of New York's 13,237 taxis in service, the most in any city in North America. By mid 2009 owners began retiring its original hybrid fleet after 300,000 and 350,000 miles per vehicle. Two attempts by the Bloomberg Administration to implement policies to force the replacement of all New York's 13,000 taxis for hybrids by 2012 were blocked by court rulings, and on February 28, 2011, the United States Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal by the city.

The value of a medallion reached $760,000 in September 2009, an increase of 179% over the previous decade.




2010’s - Taxi of Tomorrow: In 2007, city officials outlined the goals of a project to replace existing Ford Crown Victoria and other taxis by 2014, as that nameplate is slated to be discontinued in 2011. In mid 2011 the TLC was to award an exclusive contract to sell and service taxicabs in New York City for 10 years. Karsan, Nissan, and Ford's bids were the three finalists, and all of their designs were based on small vans rather than sedans. The Karsan design was later rejected due to doubts whether the company could "execute the project". In the end, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the Nissan design as the winner to replace the city's 13,000 yellow cabs, to be phased in over five years starting in 2013.



It was a must for us to take a cab ride, what a shock to get in and find high tech; the choice watching a trivia show, an advertising channel or a GPS map we could zoom in or out. A credit card machine to pay whatever next.


Trivia: Taxi drivers are exempt from having to wear seatbelts. 2.8 miles is the average cab ride. $25 is the fine to a cabbie for wearing shorts on the job. $45 is the flat fare (not including tips and tolls) between Manhattan and JFK Airport. A good deal of the film Taxi Driver was autobiographical for screenwriter Paul Schrader, who suffered a nervous breakdown, developed an obsession with guns, frequented porno theatres, and did not talk to anyone for months when he first moved to Southern California in the 1970’s. He set the story in Manhattan because taxi drivers were more emblematic of New York than of Los Angeles.