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COMMISSIONER'S COLUMN

November 2007

Believe it or not, the traditional metered New York City taxicab is 100 years old!  Amazingly enough, this milestone took place on October 1, commemorating the date in 1907 when 30-year-old entrepreneur Harry Allen had his fleet of 65 Darracq vehicles, freshly imported from France, begin to serve the network of taxi stands he had arranged at all of the city’s major hotels.  Legend has it that the very first pick-up took place in front of the Plaza Hotel, which celebrated its own centennial on October 1.  Equally legendary is Allen’s coining of the word “taxicab” – a combination of the French words “taxi” (fare or tax) and “metre” (or meter to measure) – and the fact that he sought out such a device because he believed he was overcharged by a carriage driver for a short hop of a ride!  He found the perfect meter – one that, unlike others of its time, measured both distance AND time – had been invented in Germany in 1891 by a fellow named Wilhelm Bruhn.  As is sometimes the case with some in the taxicab industry, the new meter technology was met with considerable resistance from both drivers and owners in Berlin where it was introduced, but the passengers had their way, and the meter was there to stay!  Within a year, Mr. Allen had grown his fleet to more than 700 taxicabs before events – including a taxi strike – conspired to sour him on the business by 1909, inspiring his return to the business he knew best…..importing cars.

Jumping from the past to the future, it will not be long before we have a fully-defined vision of the “Taxi of Tomorrow.”  As most people know, the Ford Crown Victoria has for a number of years been the workhorse of the taxi fleet.  What may be less well known is the fact that Ford will soon be discontinuing the Crown Victoria, as Chevrolet did years earlier in 1997 when its own Caprice was the fleet’s workhorse.  This presents an incredible opportunity to work closely with all of the stakeholders – the passengers/users, the drivers, the community of the city, vehicle owners, medallion owners, etc… – to craft a vision for a vehicle that resonates with everyone that it will serve.  To this end, we created the “Taxicab of Tomorrow Project” to design a vehicle that, among other things, will: withstand the rigors of use as a taxicab; meet the very highest standards of safety and accessibility; provide superior comfort to both passengers and drivers alike; reduce the taxicab industry’s carbon footprint consistent with the goals set by Mayor Bloomberg for every cab to be hybrid-clean (or better!) by 2012; and feature an iconic design for our urban landscape that will reconcile the taxi of the past with the “Taxi of Tomorrow.”  Simply put….we want it all!

The project will comprise four distinct phases that will take it from a wish list of ideas to technical specifications that will be in the language of the manufacturers themselves, and which will incorporate feedback from our stakeholders and those manufacturers into a final purpose-built vehicle we can proudly roll-out in the next few years.  This project comes on the heels of Taxi ’07, which culminated in a showcase of concept taxis and ideas at the New York International Auto Show earlier this year – recognizing the 100th anniversary of the cab by looking at both its past and future role in the public space and domain of our exciting city.  Taxi ‘07’s celebration and events, along with the work of the Design Trust for Public Space over the past few years, was certainly inspirational and provided the TLC with many exciting ideas and insight.  Simply put, these are exciting times – and much more is yet to come!

Finally, while we reflect on our 100th anniversary, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the taxicab owners and drivers who continue to participate in the Garden in Transit public art project.  Many of you have seen the colorful flower decals on thousands of taxicabs, or may have been approached by volunteers from the non-profit organization Portraits of Hope to ask you to participate.  This one-of-a-kind mobile public art project celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the taxicab, and the flowers on each taxicab were painted and the logistics coordinated by more than 23,000 volunteers.  Our taxicab artists overwhelmingly included children, as well as taxicab drivers, TLC staff and their families, and many other volunteer groups coordinated by the Mayor’s Volunteer Center.  Not only has the industry embraced it, but taxicab passengers and pedestrians alike have expressed their appreciation for its positivity and the sense of fun and joy that it conveys.  The flowers will continue to brighten our days even when the coldest days of Winter are upon us.

Happy 100th Anniversary everyone!


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