THE MODERN TAXI: 1960 - 2010
In the 1960s, the success and prosperity of the taxi industry was challenged as some new problems emerged. One issue involved increasing incidences of reported driver discrimination in deciding whether to pick up a passenger, which ostensibly stemmed from drivers' safety concerns. Historians attribute the rising demand for "gypsy cabs" in boroughs outside of Manhattan to licensed taxi drivers' sometimes refusing service. The proliferation of these "gypsie cabs" soon caused confusion on the streets of New York, as many people did not know a legal, licensed taxicab from an illegal unlicensed one.

Taxis from Pan Am Building, 1967. Photo courtesy of John Atherton.
  To decrease confusion between licensed and illegal taxis, City lawmakers created a requirement that all medallion taxicabs be yellow in the late 1960s, and created the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission on March 2, 1971. These changes led to more consistent regulation of the medallion taxicab industry, while also leading to the acknowledgement and legitimatization of what were then known as "gypsy cabs", into what are now known as livery cars, community cars, car services or for-hire vehicles. The 1970s also saw the taxi industry sub-divide yet again to give rise to the black car industry, which catered in large part to the corporate community. Despite all of the specialization furnished by the various newcomers to the for-hire world, yellow medallion taxicabs remain to this day the only vehicle legally authorized to respond to street hails.

The modern taxi also evolved in terms of its appearance. There were many makes and models over the years…..Ford Galaxies, Plymouth Fury Threes, and of course the Checker.
While the last Checker taxicab was manufactured in 1982, TLC regulations allowed Checker owners to keep their iconic taxis on the road so long as they passed regular inspections. These regulations likewise allowed a handful of unique models such as Peugeot taxicabs to stay on the road “by virtue of their aesthetic appearance or historic status.”

By the mid-1990s, the Chevrolet Caprice was the workhorse of the taxi fleet, with the balance tipping toward the Ford Crown Victoria when the discontinuation of the Caprice was announced in late 1996. At the same time, the number of Checker cabs that were left to carry on their powerful legacy had dwindled to a mere handful. By 1999, there were only two left, with their owners competitively racing to the finish line to see which one would retire first!

Photo courtesy of Ad Meskins
As it happened, there was only a month’s difference between them, as Johann Struna’s Checker “3F89” was retired in May 1999, leaving Earl Johnson’s “1N11” at the finish line in June of that year. The Taxi and Limousine Commission celebrated the historic milestone with a party in the middle of Times Square, complete with a Checker cab-shaped cheesecake, courtesy of the famed Junior’s restaurant in Brooklyn. In a postscript to this bit of history, Mr. Johnson’s last final remaining iconic Checker taxicab was auctioned by Sotheby’s for $134,500 in November 1999.

In November 2001, mindful of the public’s wish for a more comfortable ride, the TLC and Ford together announced the creation of a “stretched” version of the Crown Victoria, which added seven inches to the size of the chassis…..six inches of which went to the passenger, and one to the driver. In the meantime, the NYC taxi fleet also featured a small number of minivan taxicabs, and even a few Ford Explorers. After some initial concerns about the lack of legroom in hybrid-electric vehicles, in late 2005 the TLC approved the inclusion of all commercially-available hybrid models in the taxicab system. A small number of new taxicab medallion licenses were auctioned between 2003 and 2008, including a percentage of licenses earmarked for use only by alternative fuel vehicles, or by wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

NYC Taxis take to the highway. Photo courtesy of LOMTO.

These environmentally-superior vehicles were found to hold up nicely, despite the rigors of city driving. While legal challenges ultimately thwarted the City’s efforts to mandate conversion of the entire taxicab fleet to hybrids, the TLC is proud that today’s taxicab fleet is over 30% hybrid, with the majority having been “hacked up” voluntarily by owners and operators who valued their many benefits. The New York City taxicab industry boasts the highest number of both wheelchair-accessible taxicabs and hybrid-electric taxicabs in the nation.