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DC taxi panel recommends solid red color

All taxis in the District of Columbia will be red by 2018 if the city adopts a recommen­dation from a DC Taxicab Commission committee, Martin Austermuhle reports.

Photo by kenjonbro on Flickr.

The commission had unveiled a number of more detailed designs in December to almost universal scorn. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who had written the legislation mandating a uniform color, said she had meant a single color, not some complex design.

Before the garish designs came out, many spoke in favor of the red color. After all, the Circulator is red, as are Capital Bikeshare bikes, and streetcars will be as well. Others worried that the sometimes bad experience of DC taxis might harm the brand identity of these other modes if taxis are also red.

Will Sommer writes that drivers of the "Yellow Cab" company don't like the idea because their cabs won't be yellow any more. The commission reportedly did not consider yellow as the universal color because of Yellow Cab. Would the company have preferred to have all taxis match its color or to have to paint its taxis something other than yellow?

Personally, I'm not sure we really needed a single color at all. It's not really hard to distinguish taxis today, and even if they're all red, people will have to differentiate them from solid red private cars. This feels more like regulating for the sake of regulating rather than to solve a specific problem, just like with the Uber situation.

If DC must have a single color, though, solid red is definitely better than the previous taxicab commission schemes. What do you think?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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What about taking customers where they need to go and accepting multiple forms of payment (because I don't always have 25$ of cash needed to get me from most places in DC to get me to Arlington)?

Who cares about the color when the passengers and treated right?

by drumz on Feb 13, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

Will Sommer writes that drivers of the "Yellow Cab" company don't like the idea because their cabs won't be yellow any more.

Their cabs aren't yellow right now. They're orange and black.

If the purpose of the single color is to make cabs stand out, then red seems like a poor choice. Here are the most common car paint colors:

23% White
18% Black
16% Silver
13% Gray
10% Red
9% Blue
5% Brown/Beige
3% Yellow/Gold
2% Green

So, leaving off the black/white/gray 'non colors,' the color red is the most popular choice already. Not exactly a good way to stand out.

by Alex B. on Feb 13, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

I think it had less to do about regulating for the sake of regulating and more about creating a more solid brand for the District. Personally I think the patchwork of dozens of cab companies with different color schemes gives the impression of a cheap city.

As with all branding it's just skin deep, but that's enough to matter.

I agree that the experience *inside* the cab is more important and needs much improvement. But we can improve both things at once.

by TM on Feb 13, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

What idiot lawyer got the idea in their head that cabs can't be yellow? It is by far the most visible color and very few private vehicles are yellow. At night (when most people take cabs) red is harder to distinguish than yellow as well.

by Alan B. on Feb 13, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

From the DCist link:

"The D.C. Council included a uniform color for the city's cabs in a taxicab modernization bill that passed last year. While the bill did not specify a color, a survey conducted by Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) found that 38 percent of 4,000 respondents wanted yellow, while red came in second with 15 percent of votes."

by Alan B. on Feb 13, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

This is great! but.. "by 2018"???

by mattCampy on Feb 13, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

Those of us with less-than-good vision tend to take taxis a lot. The current way DC cabs are painted makes it very difficult to pick a cab out of oncoming traffic. The dome light helps some, but is of limited utility during the daylight hours. If this cuts the amount of false waving that I and others like me do in half, then YAY!

by chris on Feb 13, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

Red taxis will stand out on the street and look awesome. It will add color to our city, imo. Not sure if its a cab? Just look for the ginormous TAXI light box on the top!

by mattCampy on Feb 13, 2013 2:02 pm • linkreport

I like the red color, but I assume there will be some other sort of markers and logos on the car to ID it as a taxi (other than the top light). The photo on the entry ( just shows a red car that would look like any other red car. I hope the Commission doesn't take that image too literally.

by Clark on Feb 13, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

Red taxis will look dumb and represent another stupid, waste-of-time activity by D.C. councilmembers that like to pretend they're in office to do something other than line their own pockets with graft. It's not hard to pick out a taxi today -- it's hard to tell whether taxis are in use. "Red taxis" as a brand for the city? About the most dubious thing I've ever heard. You want to brand the city based on taxis? Because you think London's black cabs are cool? Unless you want to require all DC cabs to be the same, unique automotive design, you're not going to get a city brand. It's not like people say "Oh, NYC. It's the place with the yellow taxis."

by Bitter Brew on Feb 13, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

"rather than to solve a specific problem" I see lots of Arlington and Montgomery County taxis in DC. Now I know it's fine for them to drop off in DC, but won't this change discourage them from trying to pickup too? As well as it making it less confusing for passengers that cabs to be hailed (in DC) are red. I'm not sure how much of a problem this is but I imagine it happens. I agree with others that DC's patchwork of colors makes DC look like a 2nd tier city. I applaud the single color. Thinking about it a bit more, with Capital Bikeshare being multijurisfictional will this cause any confusion. While the Circulator and street car are only in DC, CaBi is not. Still, I think this will be an improvement.

by GP Steve on Feb 13, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

I think it's none of the government's business to dictate cab colors. I can imagine a 'licensed cab' feature of some description being displayed - the cab light on the roof seems handy for that -, but that's it.

by Jasper on Feb 13, 2013 2:22 pm • linkreport

Chris' point is a valid one, though I broadly agree that we don't need a uniform color - heterogeneous cabs give the impression that DC is a place with a lot of opportunity to run your own business your own way (sure you could cite a LOT of counterexamples). If it makes DC look cheap, I think there's a lot about the place that acts to counter that impression when compared to other US cities - at least in the places where people tend to form their first impressions about DC.
If there absolutely has to be one color, yellow makes sense because it is bright and noticeable, and because private autos are rarely yellow. If there has to be one color that isn't yellow, red makes sense. It's in our flag and identifies other parts of our transportation infrastructure, it's fairly bright and noticeable if not as distinct as yellow. Although the possibility that identifying cabs with other aspects of DC transportation infrastructure could injure the "brand" of Circulator and CaBi eg seems real to me: would it make sense to include a proscription against using the yellow or the curvy font from those modes' branding?

by Lucre on Feb 13, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

@Lucre Good points about possibly damaging the brand. The cabs I've been in in DC are far from quality. Yellow Cab company shouldn't be a concern. We could cite prior art of yellow being synonymous with a generic taxi.

by GP Steve on Feb 13, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

"Unless you want to require all DC cabs to be the same, unique automotive design, you're not going to get a city brand"

That sounds like a good idea! Unfortunately I'm not sure we have enough of a market to get a specialized taxi like in NYC. But uniformity in taxis would be a good thing.

This won't be a burden on cabs. They all repaint their cars when they get new ones anyway, so now they just will use a different color.

And this notion that the city had no interest in regulating cabs reflects the fundamental problem we have in DC. Too many people view running a cab as a god given right anyone with a crown vic is entitled to. They thus view it primarily as a small business generator and a critical part of our transportation network secondarily. That needs to flip.

by TM on Feb 13, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

I don't think they need to be universal either and imagine the current schemes don't present an issue for most of the taxi base. But if they needed one color, yellow works fine. Hate red cars...(or much of anything) so I'll just not have second option.

by HogWash on Feb 13, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

If all jurisdictions had their own color, then it might be easier for cabs to pick up riders for return trips.

by MW on Feb 13, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

Sorry, IMO, this is a solution in search of a problem.

Nothing wrong with the way that D.C. cabs are painted today. Perhaps the company names and cab numbers could be a little larger, but I think that's the only change that might be needed.

And there are a few GOOD cab brands in D.C., starting with Capitol Cab and D.C. Yellow Cab. Their brand identities will be (to a great extent) extinguished by this.

by C. P. Zilliacus on Feb 13, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

It's been a while since I took a cab in the District, but I always found it extremely annoying that most of them drove around with the dome light on while they were occupied. Defeats the whole purpose of the light.

Not sure if they've fixed this in recent years or not...

by Theo16 on Feb 13, 2013 2:55 pm • linkreport

I'm totally in favor of a uniform paint scheme for taxis -- make them easier to spot.

I think the best color is one that's (a) bright and (b) rare -- so they're easy to spot and easy to differentiate from the rest of traffic. Yellow fits that ticket, but so would orange. Red is less good on both counts, but still better than nothing.

by Gavin on Feb 13, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

People are going to just be getting in every red car in an intersection they see.

by Michael on Feb 13, 2013 3:13 pm • linkreport

Red seems fine - it will stand out.
What would also be cool is if the taxi dome light was made to look like the capitol building and the cars were all uniform/purpose built taxis (Ford Connect or that big GM thing)

What needs to be fixed are:
Cleanliness of taxis
Knowledge or roads/neighborhoods
Willingness to pick up all passengers/service all neighborhoods
Drivers understanding of when to light and not light the sign on their room
Flexibility of payment systems

by andy2 on Feb 13, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport

I think it is symbolically important; enforcing this harmonisation begins the process of bringing the various parameters of the vehicle more and more under DCTC's control. While they are hardly a confidence-worthy entity at the moment, it _would_ be nice if we had a single model of taxi cabs, a la NYC. Before you can build the consensus to require accessible vehicles with a wide cabin for larger parties, hybrid fuel economy, etc, you start with a colour.

by RMS on Feb 13, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

Is it possible for the taxi's dome light (Or LED lights embedded at the top of the windshield) to be coordinated with the meter. If the meter is on, but not running, the lights in the dome/windshield would be on or a certain color to show passengers that it is a cab looking for passengers. If the meter is running or completely turned off the dome/windshield light would be off or a different color and you would know not to try and flag it down. Just a thought.

I ask because in Japan there is a display in the windshield that shows if a cab is vacant or not. This seems like it would be very customer friendly.

by Rob P. III on Feb 13, 2013 3:37 pm • linkreport

Having a required color will eliminate the ability of cab companies to establish branding based on color.

This is something that the green-painted Envirocabs take advantage of, for example.

Without the ability for cabs to differentiate themselves based on color, the better cabs will not stick out from the worse ones.

by Mike on Feb 13, 2013 3:41 pm • linkreport

This might help with all the sketchy pseudo-cabs at Union Station.

by Chris Combs on Feb 13, 2013 3:54 pm • linkreport

I don't give much credence to the arguments about branding and competition. Competition works where consumers have choices. We regulate taxis like a public utility because consumers don't have much choice. A cab comes by and that's the one you get. I've never, when hailing a cab, had any way to distinguish one from the next in terms of their quality, safety, or anything else.

Dispatching a cab is a different matter. If you like a particular cab company, by all means call them, or use one of the various new dispatch apps. But when you're hailing a cab on the street -- i.e., the traditional purpose of cabs, and what makes them different from sedans (which are subject to less-strict regulation) -- it needs to be easy to identify a cab. A uniform color scheme is much more helpful for that than the panoply of colors we have today.

by Gavin on Feb 13, 2013 3:57 pm • linkreport

My take on this is, "regulators gotta regulate." These guys are going to do something, so we may as well put them to work mandating taxi colors rather than messing with something more damaging.

by JustMe on Feb 13, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

Good point, Chris. I took a accidentally took a gypsy cab once to upper NW. The dude had absolutely no idea how to get there (I had to try to give him directions) and had nothing inside the cab to identify the driver. It made me really uncomfortable.

by Alan B. on Feb 13, 2013 4:05 pm • linkreport

New dome lights have been mandated for all DC licensed taxies and are to be installed by this summer. Neutral in color, when a driver is seeking a fare the dome lights will display in orange a scrolling LED saying "TAXI FOR HIRE" When responding to a request for pickup it will read "ON CALL" When not working it will read "OFF DUTY" When carrying passengers it will be dark. Next to this panel will be displayed in white the vehicle's discreet DCTC VIN which will be the only identification a user with a complaint will need to provide the DCTC in order to have action on the complaint. This dome light is patented by The District so it will be unique to the city and used only by DC licensed taxies. This dome light we believe will serve to help eliminate illegal taxies and reduce the number of refusal to haul violations.

by Ron M. Linton on Feb 13, 2013 4:11 pm • linkreport

@BitterBrew "It's not like people say "Oh, NYC. It's the place with the yellow taxis."

Actually, based on pop culture appearances, postcards and magnets available in your average NYC souvenir shop, I'd say the yellow taxi is one of NYC's strongest brands.

In terms of visual association with the city, I'd put it somewhere below the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Times Square, and the Brooklyn Bridge, but above Central Park, Madison Square Garden, the Rockefeller Center ice rink, or Lincoln Center.

Not that red cabs will have a similar resonance in D.C., but I think there's a little more potential upside than downside.

by Jacques on Feb 13, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

@ Jacques:Not that red cabs will have a similar resonance in D.C., but I think there's a little more potential upside than downside.

Why should the government mandate that the cabbies are a visual association with the city? How is this different than mandating that bars have purple fronts, restaurants brown ones, and retail blue store fronts. Easy for recognition, not?

This is just big government regulating where no regulation is needed.

by Jasper on Feb 13, 2013 4:33 pm • linkreport

Jasper, it's more like bus companies in cities where municipal bus networks are run by private companies under contract/license from the city. Their appearance is also regulated.

Also, the appearance of stores IS regulated. See Sign laws.

by RMS on Feb 13, 2013 4:37 pm • linkreport

Once DC cabs are safe, clean, readily available in all parts of the district and operated by polite, knowledgeable and honest drivers the Taxicab Commission can worry about color schemes. Until then, initiatives like this are not an appropriate use of their resources.

by Jacob on Feb 13, 2013 4:40 pm • linkreport

It's a pretty low cost initiative. One pantone code is chosen, published. I don't think this is all that dilatory.

There is a lot of affect over here about paint colour; I wonder what would have happened if DC tried to specify a vehicle, as NYC does. BTW, try to find a cab in interior Brooklyn, or in the Bronx. Cabs in every city tend to loiter downtown, drive through posh areas, and ignore as much as possible working class neighbourhoods that will seldom provide a fare.

I'm not saying this is great, or even tolerable, or that DCTC can't do better, but unless people actually want to visit these neighbourhoods, not simply leave them, they will always have cab availability problems.

by RMS on Feb 13, 2013 5:00 pm • linkreport

Do a Google Image search for "Taxicab" and notice the color. I'm not sure how DC Government got the idea that yellow cabs are just an NYC thing. They are common in many other places (whether or not required by law). The reasons for this are obvious. People from all over the US know that "Yellow=Taxi." Resisting this existing branding, out of some irrational fear that people will think we're "trying to be like New York," is ridiculous.

by Jimmy on Feb 13, 2013 5:02 pm • linkreport

The argument about colors is kind of moot until we get drivers that:

1) Actually know where your destination is and how to get there
2) Are friendly
3) Don't harass women
4) Don't cheat people out of fares
5) Clean

by Nick on Feb 13, 2013 5:02 pm • linkreport

It turns out, yellow is frequent, but eyeballing this list it's not even a majority choice:

Quite a lot of choices here. Most nations have a national standard colour.

(re: Majority, perhaps majority color by # cabs would be more significant, but I simply don't care enough to collate that information)

by RMS on Feb 13, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport

@ RMS:Jasper, it's more like bus companies in cities where municipal bus networks are run by private companies under contract/license from the city.

No, it's not. Those companies are contracted by the city, and represent the city. Cabs are not and do not. They are independent companies that regulated by the city. The city and cab users have an interest in some regulation, for safety reasons. Pricing is very unfortunately also necessary. I compare this to fire requirements and requirements for liquor licenses (which in this city are massively over regulated as well). The city has no interest though in mandating the color. It's just big government sicking its nose in things it does not belong.

by Jasper on Feb 13, 2013 5:15 pm • linkreport

Here's an idea, paint the cabs with a nano tech type paint that glows in the dark. At night, you just look for the rolling glow worm with "taxi" on top. If that doesn't work, perhaps an international orange or bright metallic gold.

by NFA on Feb 13, 2013 5:19 pm • linkreport

What orthodoxy requires a single color for cabs?

I'll miss the sloppy mud-grey-to-yellow rainbow of our taxis today.

The DC taxi cab commission is unworthy.

by kob on Feb 13, 2013 7:58 pm • linkreport

Red fades relatively quickly and, along with black, is the least visible color at night. The uniform color thing just seems unnecessary.

by Rich on Feb 13, 2013 9:29 pm • linkreport

Red works as a brand and for standing out. Aside from the taxi light which sometimes does not work, the color is all you've got to go on when hailing. Yeah, yellow is brighter and more universally recognized, but I like the idea of going our own way with red.

by DNo on Feb 14, 2013 12:34 am • linkreport

Cabs should be yellow or maybe orange. Not red, to many people have red cars it will be confusing. When people think of taxi's they think yellow. Why is the city government intent on trying to force a round peg into a square hole? Just to be different? It's ridiculous. If they feel so compelled to make them all one color, just choose the obvious choice, YELLOW!! This isn't rocket science.

by Doug on Feb 14, 2013 12:49 am • linkreport

I just had to add, I just looked out my window and out of the dozen cars that I can see parked on the street in front of my house, three are red. None of them cabs by the way, this is such a stupid idea.

by Doug on Feb 14, 2013 12:55 am • linkreport

I love the red. Maybe a blood red becasue cherry red looks kind-a-childish.

by Thayer-D on Feb 14, 2013 7:43 am • linkreport

I like the "broken windows theory" approach of cleaning up the ratty taxis with a single color. But it's not the outside of the cab that's the problem. Long live Uber.

by MJ on Feb 14, 2013 8:55 am • linkreport

Speaking of Uber, in mid-December the moderators of the largest list serv in DC published a story about an alleged rape on December 14 of a young woman by the Uber driver who supposedly drove her home in Cleveland Park. If true, this would be shocking and deeply disturbing. However, the Northwest Current has published nothing about this alleged incident in its weekly crime stats, and the Second District MPD confirmed that they had no record of such a crime on that date or the weeks surrounding it. Some have suggested that the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by DC taxi interests or another competitor of Uber. Moreover, if it had occured, the passenger and the police would have a digital record of the driver (and the story said the home had security cameras), so one would think an arrest would have been forthcoming immediately. If the alleged crime occured, then the Uber driver and Uber have to be held accountable. But if it didn't -- and the complete lack of any police report is certainly unusual -- then the list serv has some serious 'splainin' to do and Uber is owed an apology. Strangely, the moderators of the Cleveland Park list serv have never followed up on their posting nor disclosed how they got it.

Here is the link to the moderators' post about the alleged rape by an Uber driver (may need to be member of Cleveland Park list serv): (message 82817)

And here is the moderators' email to ask for a clarification, which has never been forthcoming.
List owner:

by Jasper on Feb 14, 2013 10:16 am • linkreport

For starters, red is not a good choice for the simple reason that lots of color-blind people like me have real trouble picking it out. Further, why is Councilor Cheh in such a rush to hammer all the cabs into some soviet-style conformity? I think the broad palette of cab liveries is something charming and unique about DC Cabs. As Chairman Mao put it so well, "Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a thousand schools of thought contend." So let it be with our Washington taxicabs. Let's be defiantly varied and unique. If you must have some identifying mark, why not simply require all cabs to have the old-fashioned checkerboard stripes running at waist level from front to rear bumper on both sides of the car, and around the roof line. That is language that everyone can understand. Besides, who in his right mind would want to imitate the NYC cab system? Everyone knows that it is closed and corrupt, and would-be cabbies have to pay six-figure "fees" to secure their medallions. Yes, the quality of our DC cabs and their drivers differ as widely as the colorful liveries of the autos themselves. And anyone who knows Washington knows that this quality varies -- if you want a good cab experience, you call Diamond at DU7-6200, or Yellow, or Capitol. After that, it's a riverboat gamble. A larger or more obvious dome light would, however, be very helpful; so would requiring cabbies to follow the rules -- i.e., when your light is on, you MUST pick up passengers. Councilor Cheh and her colleagues should focus less on show-boating about taxicab colors, and more on making sure the cabs are safe, comfortable, and reasonably priced, and that the drivers are honest and knowledgable.

by Publius Washingtoniensis on Feb 14, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

Maybe Councilmember Cheh should be known as "Comrade Che."

by Jasper on Feb 14, 2013 12:08 pm • linkreport

Oh for heaven's sake, why is it so difficult to accept that the universally understood color for taxi cabs is YELLOW. Paint them yellow like every other major city in the world and be done with it! Why do we have to be 'that city' that can't get with the program?!

by MLS on Feb 14, 2013 2:53 pm • linkreport

I'm really rather astonished at the love people have for the colour yellow, all of a sudden.

There's untapped rage here that's being vented on a really trivial issue. Let's try making our cityscape identifiable and unique. That means architecture, signage, and yes, transport vehicles, to the extent we can.

A sense of place is the most significant difference between a vibrant city and McSuburb USA.

by RMS on Feb 14, 2013 2:56 pm • linkreport

The cabs should be white with a red stripes down the sides with stars on the doors (or even a checkerboard pattern). The DC flag is white with red and the cabs should reflect that.

by Cider on Feb 14, 2013 7:03 pm • linkreport

Here's to sticking with "Redskins" and doubling the bet

by polo on Feb 15, 2013 12:45 pm • linkreport

Red's a great color choice...for emergency vehicles.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 15, 2013 3:18 pm • linkreport

Color them yellow. Even if you *could* trademark a color, you have to realize that the "Yellow Cab" company cabs are not yellow in this town.

Take a look --

by YellowCabs are Orange in DC on Feb 17, 2013 5:41 pm • linkreport

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