Yellow Cabs – A fairy tale in New York

A recent visit across the pond, strictly non-car related you understand, provided a welcome pre-Xmas fairy tale in New York with, unlike the hapless couple in the song, only positive outcomes. Being in the Big Apple did however reveal a slightly alarming trend away from distinctive American sedans to a situation where it seems anything goes when it comes to the city’s signature yellow cabs. Could this be a result of a genuine ‘Fairy Tale in New York’ style fall-out much closer to the lyrics of our season favourite?

In deciding, well more agreeing, to keep any car interests at bay I restricted my wish list to a simple ride in a yellow cab direct from the airport. Rather naively the picture I had in mind was a lazy V8 powered classically styled American large three box saloon offering incredible launch capability at every set of lights. Well, in my defence, it had been twenty years since I last visited.

Yellow Cabs
Crossing the famous Brooklyn Bridge Downtown Manhattan

Disappointment does not even begin to cover the emotions felt looking at a line of Hybrids and Mini-Transits outside JFK’s Terminal 7 with barely a V8 in sight. Our journey in the end being in a Toyota Camry Hybrid, which at least provided a strong (electric) launch and did also come in sedan form with a large boot. It shouldn’t have been a big surprise I know, but still left a slight emptiness. After all, with one notable exception, London has managed to keep its distinctive black taxis in largely the same form, so why not New York with its yellow cabs?

Yellow Cabs
View from Central Library

True over the years, unlike London taxis, New York cabs have taken many forms, although generally always remained consistent in any given era, think Checker Cabs from the 50s, 60s and 70s providing arguably the biggest signature of them all, as depicted in the TV sitcom Taxi. Later on in the 80s Chevrolet Caprices and Ford Victoria Crowns took centre stage, the latter quite often recycled law enforcement vehicles. Travel to the USA during this time and you were left in no doubt as to what an American car looked and sounded like. You were literally surrounded by them in all walks of life.

Step forwards to 2014 in New York and you spend most time trying to spot an American car, yellow or otherwise. This sparked a thought, is the yellow cab the tip of the iceberg, is anyone buying American ironware anymore? Inside New York if a car is needed, according to our tour guide 60% of residents believe it is not, then BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Lexus and Toyota (often the Camry interestingly) all appear to be popular choices.

Yellow Cabs
The cab in front is the Toyota Camry

A quick sanity check online afterwards of 2014 car sales confirmed Chrysler, General Motors and Ford to still be on top in terms of the North American market, but Toyota not that far behind with the Camry their number one seller mainly due to success in the company car market. In fact sales of this car are continuing to grow in a country where utility vehicles rule. Americans still like their sedans it seems; just not the home grown models, Impala and others better beware.

Back to New York and in walking around this tremendous city breathing relatively clean air, well certainly not choking on fumes at every block, hybrids make sense and with over 13,000 taxi licences issued having a large scale reduction in emissions more so. Environmentally the decision has got to be on the right lines. Indeed it wasn’t the hybrid bit that hurt the most, once over the shock of no V8; it was more the loss of the signature style and shape that has been in existence for so long. You see the modern yellow cabs come in so many different forms, the accidental outcome of a recent Court ruling, meaning the signature is now lost.

Yellow Cabs
Yellow cabs waiting patiently in line

The mix-mash of vehicles appear to be the result of a Judge overturning a Mayor’s Office decision late in 2013 to have just one yellow cab going forwards; the $30,000 Nissan NV200 Mini-Van. An unpopular decision amongst cabbies that would have provided the city with its signature vehicle, although not a particularly pretty one and a million miles away from the still popular sedan shape. The court ruled that there should be no restrictions on vehicles, hence the wide range of cars being used today.

For me neither decision feels quite right for New York. The mini-van failing to provide a classically styled shape, and the no restrictions ruling resulting in yellow cab anarchy where apparently anything goes. Personally I prefer the signature created by one or two similar looking cars and given the countries love affair with the Camry maybe New York could settle on that or better still some home grown talent with various power-plant options including, one can only hope, at least a V6 if a V8 is considered far too yester-year? Our first choice of car could nominally provide 65% of yellow cabs, with an alternative utility vehicle catering for those requiring improved accessibility or wheel chair access filling the remaining 35%, just a thought.

Yellow Cabs
Flying at night

If this resulted in a general trend away from hybrids, the complaint being from owners that they are more expensive to run longer term, offsetting the greater emissions produced could be achieved by the introduction of a congestion charge for privately owned vehicles. This is something that might also help Manhattan’s unbelievable traffic chaos that can easily extend an uptown, midtown or downtown bus tour by over an hour to leave your host completely devoid of anything more to say about the historic building (still) on the left.

I really hope the city gets its head around the yellow cab situation and pleased to report that for us normal service was resumed on the way back to the airport. Private hire cars, like some yellow cab licence holders are still loyal and our drive home was in a Lincoln Town Car. A luscious V8 super saloon with gigantic boot and huge rear seats that was soft and comfortable. I forgave it the green LED central console and faux wooden dash trim and instead enjoyed its powerful pick-up from the lights, rumbling engine note and shimmying rear axle. This was the experience I craved; it’s just a shame it’s far from guaranteed when visiting New York.


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