These cars represent the future of D.C.’s cityscape. They represent our municipal identity and our unwillingness to be compared with that self-aggrandizing megalopolis up north. (Or maybe our desire to be like New York. They could represent that as well.) They represent ideas of beauty and how beauty looks when displayed on a sedan barreling down Connecticut Avenue. These cars are about all of those things.
This is what led up to the decision. A story about a city and its taxicabs.
Four cars on display
Here they are, next to the Mini Coopers.
It was a relatively tiny display at the Washington Auto Show last weekend, before the panel’s recommendation had been made. Nothing compared with Ford, which muscled out a third of the upstairs exhibit hall, or Fiat, which had, in its zippy Italian way, installed an indoor driving track with potted-plant obstacles.
This tableau, at the bottom of an escalator in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, was just four cars.
A woman walks up to the display. She wore a denim jacket. She put her hands on her hips, cocked her head and considered the cars. She said to her friend:
“Well. They’re not that ugly.”
These were the future taxicabs of Washington, D.C.
Not these, specifically. Cars like these, though.
The city council of the District of Columbia has made a decision: All of the taxis in the District — all 7,000 of them — must have a standard color scheme. Black Pearl cabs will no longer be charcoal. Checker Cabs will no longer be checkered. The District identity would usurp the individual company’s identity.
These prototypes at the auto show represented possibilities, meant to prompt wide discussion. One of the cars is mostly green and yellow, with a hint of gray. One is mostly gray and yellow, with a hint of green. One is red, gray and black; the last is red, yellow and white. All of them involve a horizontal stripe, a whoosh, a sporty sense of forward motion.
These cars did prompt wide discussion. The city widely discussed how much it hated them.
At the auto show, John Miller of Silver Spring stopped by the taxi display, with his teenage son and his son’s friend. In front of the four cars, there was a ballot box, where voters could select their favorites. “Go ahead,” he encouraged his entourage. “You’re the ones who are going to have to live with them,” he said. Long after he’s gone.
‘Taxis are our ambassadors’
On Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) put forth a piece of legislation. It was titled the Taxicab Commission Service Improvement Amendment Act. It was 32 pages long. It dealt with matters such as wheelchair accessibility and the reduction of carbon emissions through the use of hybrid vehicles. It discussed mandatory Global Positioning System devices and credit card readers with printable receipts.