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Swiss gives New York City taxis a new face

The new logo of the New York cab with the "T" in a circle before the "AXI"

A young Swiss graphic designer has helped give the famous yellow New York taxi a new makeover.

Since the end of January, all 13,000 NYC cabs now sport a modern hybrid logo, part of one of the biggest changes to their appearance since 1970. But the new design is not to everyone's liking.

Claudia Christen from the village of Toffen, near Bern, is extremely proud to have been involved in such a high-level design project.

"I wanted to make a logo that doesn't take over the yellow and impose on something that is part of the city," she told swissinfo. "[The new logo] changes the face of New York a little bit. You'll be able to see them in every TV series and film in the future."

For the past twelve years, the 34-year-old has been working in New York as a graphic designer and photographer.

Just over a year ago, New York town hall awarded the design agency she works for, Smart Design, the contract of giving the unmistakable yellow cab a new look.

Although the cab interior needed a complete overhaul, priority was given to the exterior and the seventies style logo, which wasn't a proper logo really, said Christen.

For inspiration, the design team, headed by the Swiss artist, studied foreign taxis, archive material of NYC cabs and re-watched classic New York films including Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver and Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth.

Bumpy ride

But the project turned into a fairly bumpy ride, especially as the city authorities had their own ideas, resulting in a long approval process between Smart Design and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office.

"It wasn't a very easy process, as it was quite political, but it was fun working with the city and the taxi limousine company," said Christen. "Everyone there was excited about getting a new logo."

After 25 drafts a compromise was eventually found. The new logo appears on the front doors of the cab, combining the NYC emblem used by NYC & Company, the city's tourist board, a T set in a circle and the letters AXI in a custom typeface developed by Smart Design for a prototype cab of the future.

Among the other changes, a fare information panel appears on the rear doors, accompanied by an image of someone hailing a cab. The medallion registration number moves to the back of the car and is trailed by a checkerboard stream of rectangles, reminiscent of the much-missed early Checker cab.

The solution is therefore a hybrid one, like the NYC cab engines that have to be installed by 2012. But this is not entirely to the graphic designer's liking.

"I'm not very happy with this hybrid solution. The city finally decided to add the terrible "NYC" part. We were surprised, as we'd never heard before that they wanted to change it. I don't think it goes at all with the circle and the rest of the font," she explained. "If I'd known we had to use the NYC part, it would have been a completely different logo."

Mixed reaction

New Yorkers' reactions have also been mixed, admitted Christen.

"Most people like it, especially the taxi and limousine company, which thinks it's such an improvement on the last one. Among taxi drivers the reaction is mixed – sometimes they really like it and sometimes they don't like the "NYC"," she said.

Remarks on a blog on the New York Times online newspaper were generally critical, not only of a logo that evolved bureaucratically, but of the idea that a bright yellow vehicle needed to be specially branded in the first place.

"This design reeks of imbalance and discontinuity. It calls attention to itself merely on the dubious appearance of the "NYC" text, which is so squat and disproportionate as to be illegible," said Kevin B.

"I think to have a logo for a NYC Taxi is a bit of an oxymoron! New York City cab is a symbol in itself," added Viren Brahmbhatt.

swissinfo, based on an article by Michel Walter

In brief

The taxicabs of New York City, with their distinctive yellow paint, are a widely recognized icon of the city. Taxicabs are operated by private companies and licensed by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

There are just over 13,000 yellow cabs, or "Medallion taxis," which are the only vehicles in the city permitted to pick up passengers in response to a street hail. The commission also oversees 40,000 black taxis and other vehicles for hire.

The first taxicab company in New York was the New York Taxicab Company, which in 1907 imported 600 cars from France. They were painted red and green.

Founded by Morris Markin, Checker Cabs produced the large yellow and black taxis that became one of the most recognisable symbols of mid-20th century urban life. For many years Checker cabs were the most popular taxis in New York City.

In 2005, New York introduced incentives to replace its current yellow cabs with electric hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius. In May 2007, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a five-year plan to switch the taxicabs to more fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles in an effort for New York City to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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