Mumbai's taxi drivers browned off over livery change

Drivers of Mumbai's black and yellow taxis, a distinctive feature of city life for nearly a century, are up in arms after the state government unveiled plans to change their colour to beige and brown.

Maharashtra state transport minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said all new taxis coming into service in India's financial and entertainment capital would be painted beige with a nut-brown trim.

But the largest union representing drivers hit out at the proposal, saying they had not been consulted.

"There'll be two types of taxis in Mumbai: black and yellow ones and new vehicles in the new colour. People will get confused," the general secretary of the Mumbai Taximen's Union, A.L. Quadros, told AFP on Friday.

"The minister has taken this decision without consulting the union. Changing the colour of taxis is not a burning issue. He should be concentrating on other things."

Quadros, whose union represents 40,000 of the 55,000 taxi drivers plying Mumbai's streets, said the tinkering made no sense, as the vehicles were as synonymous with the city as black cabs in London or yellow taxis in New York.

"Black and yellow is a heritage colour... I will be writing to the minister to protest," he added.

Motorised taxis arrived in the then city of Bombay in the early 20th century and have become an icon represented in everything from Bollywood movies to commemorative tea towels and t-shirts.

The most famous type of taxi is the Premier Padmini, a collaboration between Italy's Fiat and India's Premier Automobiles Ltd, which has a mechanical meter on the bonnet to calculate fares.

They remain a cheap, if sometimes uncomfortable, form of transport for commuting but overcharging by drivers or their refusal to ply short distances is a regular gripe for passengers.

In recent years, many of the ageing Padminis, which Premier stopped making in 2000, have been replaced by newer cars with electronic meters, as the state government ordered cabs aged 25 years and older off the roads.

There has also been competition from a number of radio-cab fleets that use air conditioned, modern vehicles that cannot be hailed directly on the street.

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