Why New York taxis are (almost all) yellow

For about a year, the city’s 12,000 or so yellow taxis have been joined by a small new lime-green fleet. The new cabs are only allowed to pick up fares in Manhattan’s northern neighborhoods and the outer boroughs.

Yellowtaxi1970s

Seeing them raises the question: why are New York taxis generally supposed to be yellow, anyway?

The first automobile taxis weren’t painted any color at all. Powered by 800-pound electric batteries, about 100 of them trolled the streets in 1899. The two below are operating beside the Metropolitan Opera House on 39th Street and Broadway.

Electrictaxi1890s

In 1908, 600 gasoline-fueled, red and green paneled taxis were imported to New York from France. The name “taxi” comes from their innovative new “taximeters” that recorded mileage.

The color change apparently began in 1915, when John Hertz, of Hertz rental car fame, opened a taxi company in Chicago.

Yellowcheckercab

Hertz reportedly read a study showing that yellow was the most visible color from a distance.

“It became an industry trend, which of course was continued when he and his partner, Walden Shaw, branched out to other cities, including New York City,’ explained New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesperson, in a New York Times column from 1996.

Yellowtaxisheraldsquare1936

In 1967, the city finally made it illegal for a taxi to be any color but yellow. That changed with the introduction of the official wasabi-colored taxis in 2013, increasingly more common among their bumblebee-yellow counterparts.

[Top: 1970s yellow cab awesomeness, Everett Collection; third: the last Checker Cab in New York City, from the New York Daily News; bottom: Berenice Abbott captures yellow taxis in traffic in 1936]

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19 Responses to “Why New York taxis are (almost all) yellow”

  1. Bruce R. Gilson Says:

    Just recently, Washington, D. C. decided to establish a common color for all its cabs. In the discussion that ensued, it was decided that whatever color they decided on should NOT be yellow because “yellow cabs are a sign of New York”! After much display of proposed color schemes and polling of samples of people, they ended up with a red and gray scheme (see http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/New-DC-Taxi-Design-Revealed-Cabs-to-Be-Red-With-a-Gray-Stripe-205256261.html ). They didn’t need to repaint them immediately, so only gradually are DC taxis becoming red and gray, however.

    • surellin9 Says:

      Heh, in their urge to NOT imitate New York, DC is instead imitating Columbus Ohio, with Ohio State’s scarlet-and-gray colors. DC shoulda thought that one through a little better.

      • Bruce R. Gilson Says:

        I looked up Columbus. They seem to have a number of cab companies, each with a different scheme. That’s what DC has been, and the suburbs where I live still are like.

  2. gimelgort Says:

    Actually, it raises the question. Begging the question is another thing entirely. I’ll shut up now. Thank you again for my favorite blog!

  3. Eric Says:

    Begging the question is a logical fallacy. It is not the same as raising the question.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Okay, thanks!

  5. Gojira Says:

    In the 1930s and 40s, many NYC cabs were painted a combination of either pine green and yellow or dark red and yellow – but they were so huge there would have been no way to miss ‘em anyhow!

  6. New York Today: Sports Turnaround | NEWS.GNOM.ES Says:

    […] • Why New York City taxis are (mostly) yellow. [Ephemeral New York] […]

  7. fmbradshaw Says:

    And guess who can’t tell the difference between the Canary Yellow and Lime Green cabs…
    This color blind guy right here!!!

  8. Robert Says:

    ‘Begging the question’ is the name of a logical fallacy. It is also a way to say ‘raises the question’. Some words or phrases, such as this one, have two meanings, and readers can disambiguate based on the context.

  9. George Laszlo Says:

    Having a distinct color is actually very important. In London, where the cabs are black, the taxi regulator asked Nissan just recently to go back and redesign the front end of their new NV200 taxi so it could be recognized as being different than a normal NV200 van. John Hertz was a pretty smart guy!

  10. Sufiya Says:

    The wasabi colour is supposed to be even MORE visible (especially at NIGHT). For a while there, there was a push on to paint FIRE TRUCKS this colour instead of red to help increase their visibility, and I did see a few of them around. But people hated them; they wanted the old red colour and so the push died out.

    • Rob T Firefly Says:

      I remember they tried out the bright yellow/green fire engines (much brighter than the wasabi cabs; think highlighter pen) in scattered areas of Long Island in the 1980s/1990s, but most areas seemed to go back to red fairly quickly.

  11. A Short Course On Taxi History – New York | Nincompoop Nation Says:

    […] the EPHEMERAL NEW YORK blog, interesting facts and figures about taxis. For example, did you know the word taxi comes from […]

  12. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Why Are Taxis Almost All Yellow?

    Fascinating.  I’ve been riding in these cabs for 30 years (I even remember the old Checker Cabs), but never knew the whole story.

  13. geez Says:

    Duh.

  14. Dreams Mellici Says:

    Sounds fishy

  15. Edward Says:

    Amazing that every cab in that first picture is a Dodge. They were all DeSotos in the 1940s and ’50s, then Plymouths/Fords, then Dodges in the early ’70s and then the ubiquitous Dodge Diplomat/Plymouth Gran Fury in the early 1980s before Chrysler stopped making large RWD cars in the late ’80s. Ford stepped in with the Crown Victoria and almost every cab was a Crown Vic until a few years ago.

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