In 1994 the then Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, decided that all Victorian cabs had to become a uniform shade of yellow. Not to be outdone, two years later the Carr Government in NSW also mandated a uniform colour for its taxis. Luckily it chose white rather than the peculiar pale yellow forced on the Victorian industry. This could all change if the chief executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum, John Lee, has his way. Starting with Sydney he wants all Aussie cabs to be yellow because, he says, it would bring us into line with international cities like New York ... and Melbourne.
by Tim Hoi
It may be worthwhile to start by informing Mr. John Lee that unlike New York, Australia is not a city but a country and that there is no country in the world which mandates that its taxis be one particular colour. Even the iconic ‘black cabs’ in London are no longer required to be black. In fact many of them are covered in full body advertising like our government buses. There are even pink ‘black cabs’ running around.
However, people still identify the distinct design of the ‘black cab’ with London, just like most of us identify ‘yellow cabs’ with New York. Yet, we have had yellow cabs in Australia for the past 88 years since a bloke by the name of P.W. Tewksbury bought the franchise rights from Yellow Cabs in Chicago, USA, not only to the name, but also to its purpose-built taxis and unique orange-yellow colour. He registered the name Yellow Cabs of Australasia Limited and on 15 October 1924 100 imported American Yellow Cabs hit the streets of Melbourne. The following year Yellow Cab companies were also formed in Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane and soon the brand had spread right around the country, all painted the same warm attractive yellow under licence.
It took Jeff Kennett, Premier of Victoria, to kill the brand in Melbourne when in 1994 he mandated that all the state’s taxis be painted yellow, not the historical yellow of Yellow Cabs, but the rather sickly pale yellow they are today.
Presumably the reason for this brainless decision was to create a taxi fleet distinctly Victorian, dreaming that some day it would be as famous as the yellow cabs of New York. As a former advertising man he wanted to build brand Victoria. That it was at the expense of the state’s individual taxi brands like Silver Top and Black Cabs was not his concern.
One of the advantages passengers have in Sydney is that it is easy to identify which network the taxi they hail belongs to because of their distinctive branding. In Melbourne all you see is a sea of yellow. The identity of Silver Top, Black Cabs, Yellow Cabs and Platinum has all but been destroyed and so has the competition between the brands.
According to the Daily Telegraph the idea to turn all Australian cabs a uniform yellow is the brainchild of John Lee, a former general manager of Sydney Buses and now CEO of corporate lobby group, the Tourism and Transport Forum. He claims it has been a great success in Victoria by making it easier for the public to distinguish cabs from other vehicles.
As one Telegraph reader responded: “Any one who doesn’t know what a taxi looks like deserves to walk home.”
The only thing mandatory yellow has done for Victoria is make it considerably more expensive for taxi operators to update their vehicles. Every cab, new or second hand, has to be re-sprayed at a cost between $1,200 and $2,500 depending on brand and model.
When a regular Sydney taxi reaches its 6 year maximum age limit its owner is generally able to sell it for between $1,000 and $3,000 because it is white whereas a Melbourne ex-taxi is a write-off.
Why on earth Mr. Lee wants to Americanise the Australian taxi industry is beyond comprehension.
Should he be successful in convincing the NSW Government of the merit of his ‘brainchild’ one can only hope the NSW Taxi Council challenges it all the way to the High Court if necessary, something the Victorian Taxi Association should have done when it had the chance.
If John Lee has difficulty distinguishing Sydney cabs, with their prominent roof signs and livery, from other cars on the road, maybe he should either stop having long lunches or get new glasses.
But unlike Kennett, Lee doesn’t actually want ALL cabs to be yellow. Premium cabs like Silver Service, Prestige Cabs and Diamond Cabs would be exempt. They would be able to keep their own distinct colour.
That of course would make his whole idea an absolute farce.
New York City recently mandated that from next year every yellow cab owner replacing his cab must replace it with a Nissan NV200 (see photo above). This is the kind of regulatory control one would have expected in the former Soviet Union, certainly not in the USA, the land of the free, of opportunity, individuality and free enterprise.
Well, if it is happening in the USA, Mr. Lee will probably want to copy it here.