The distinctively painted yellow taxicabs of New York City are a widely recognized icon of the famed city. Owned and operated by private companies and licensed by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, taxis comprise of more than 13,000 operating within the city itself. An ocean of yellow, indeed. The familiar and iconic yellow taxi are the only vehicles permitted to obtain street-side passengers that hail a cab. Oh, the ‘street hail’ experience in NYC!
When I recall my visits into New York City from Long Island, I reminisce about the visual impact of the seemingly thousands of yellow taxi cabs maneuvering unpredictable street situations. Riding in a taxi was always a whirlwind of what seemed dangerous navigation from behind the wheel. But, alas, these daring drivers are of a skilled, savvy and knowledgeable sort. Imagine the sheer knowledge of the map of the city they must know! Include the Five Boroughs (Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island), and you have a driving Rand-McNally behind the wheel! The NYC cabbie. Oh, the stories they could tell! (By the way, I have never agreed with the belief that New Yorker’s are not friendly. Indeed, New Yorker’s are probably the most interesting individuals out there!) What the cabbies have witnessed from behind the wheels of their fare-tracking vehicle could surely fill the pages of many novels. Interesting reading material, for sure!
Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the first taxicab company in NYC was the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company in 1897. The company ran until 1898 with approximately 62 cabs operating until the company was reformed to the “Electric Vehicle Company“. The Electrobat electric car had up to 100 taxicabs running by 1899. Of interest, in May of 1899, an electric taxicab driver received the first speeding ticket in the United States! Who knew? The Electric Vehicle Company ended in collapse after a fire destroyed many of the fleet, combined with the historic ‘Panic of 1907’. The return to horsedrawn cabs became a primary means of transport around New York City. It was in 1907 that Harry N. Allen, furious at being charged $5.00 for his 0.75 mile (1.21 km) journey, decided to start a taxicab service in New York. Allen imported from France 65 gasoline powered cars 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. A visionary, indeed! By 1908 the New York City Taxicab Company was running 700 taxicabs. Within a decade, several more companies opened and the taxicab business grew rapidly. The fare had increased to 50 cents a mile, a rate that was only affordable to the fairly wealthly patrons. Interestingly, during the great depression, New York had as many as 30,00 cab drivers! In 1937 the Medallion System was introduced, which restricts the number of cabs. In 1967, with the infiltration of many cab companies, New York City ordered all “Medallion taxis” to be painted yellow to help cut down on unofficial taxi drivers and make official taxicabs more readily recognizable. Who knew?
The next time you step into the brightly hued yellow taxi on the streets of NYC, remember the history. The knowledge. Ah, yes, there are taxi’s everywhere, but I suppose that it is the NYC yellow taxi that connects to my heart. “Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker”. Should I paraphrase that to a Long Islander…? Either way, the yellow taxi IS New York City.
Bold, bright, and YELLOW.