New York taxi officials seek a new 'green' yellow cab
Nothing screams New York more loudly than the city's yellow cab, but city officials hope the next generation of taxis will be, well, a bit more green.
New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman David Yassky, who is overseeing the search for a new design, says the city hopes to replace the current fleet standard, the gas-guzzling Ford Crown Victoria.
"It's done great work," he says. "But it's time for a new car. The Ford Crown Victoria gets 12 miles to a gallon. It's not the most comfortable ride in the back, and while it's a design that everyone associates with the New York City cab, it's time to freshen it up."
The finalists in the competition to design the next generation of yellow cabs include car manufacturers Nissan, Ford and Karsan of Turkey. The results will be announced in mid-January.
The competing designs are all roomier and more fuel-efficient than the current yellow taxis, which number about 13,000, and they all bear more than a passing resemblance to the most modern black cabs in London.
City officials are thinking of giving one manufacturer the contract to build all of New York's cabs - a change from the current situation where 16 different models of taxi are made by nine different manufacturers, although the majority are Ford's Crown Victoria.
The potential move to one manufacturer is not popular with veteran taxi driver John Caines, who is devoted to his Crown Victoria.
"It's as New York as Broadway, as Manhattan as Times Square," he says. "It's my office, my production facility, my way of earning income."
Every morning, he gets up, washes his cab, and heads out to see what the day brings. Mr Caines does not want to part company with his current vehicle, and dislikes the idea of one manufacturer making all of the city's taxis.
"What about choice?" he asks. "Where's my freedom to choose? And what if that one manufacturer can't get you the parts when you need them? It's risky."
He also worries about how much the new cab might cost.
Mr Caines averages 50,000 miles (80,467km) a year in his taxi, in gridlock and in good times.
"This can be a dangerous, stressful job," he says. "You never know who's going to get in the back, if they're going to pay. Yet we are ambassadors for the city, we interact with the public, it's an important job."
Mr Yassky of the Taxi and Limousine Commission agrees that cabs and their drivers are the city's signature.
"If you watch a movie or a TV show set in New York City, the way they tell you it's set in New York is they show a yellow taxi," he says.
"It's because it's a scrappy, energetic industry. They're darting here and there, it's a perfect symbol for a commercial city."
And now, that city will be represented by a different silhouette.
Referring to a popular taxi model of the 20th Century, Mr Yassky hopes the city will select a cab "that people look on as fondly as they do the Checker".
He says: "I'd like to have a car that has that same level of popular affection."