Seeing Red

Cabs in the snow at Union Station

It happened so gradually that maybe you didn’t notice – until all of a sudden, you realize that every single taxi in D.C. is red. We wondered why.

Well, it all started with the D.C. Taxicab Commission deciding to overhaul the cab regulations back in 2011. They wanted to require credit-card readers and strengthen accessibility requirements. As part of this overhaul, the Commission got the idea to regulate the colors of cabs.

Most cities have a number of different cab companies with a few different color schemes. But D.C. was a real outlier, with 118 different cab companies and associated colors. The Commission thought it would be great to make all cabs the same, especially so that they would be instantly recognizable to visitors. This again would make D.C. an outlier in the other direction, since few cities have a uniform color requirement for cabs.

It’s easy to tell which are the cabs in the queue at Union Station
“energy drink” color scheme prototype

It seemed like a pretty good idea when it started (although the Yellow Cab Company was predictably unhappy). A design firm was hired, and several two-toned designs were shown for public input. That’s when it went south – almost everyone hated the proposed colors. The nicest thing said about them was that they looked like “energy drinks.”

The D.C. Council was blunt, calling the proposed color schemes “horrid” and “appalling.”

Could we have yellow cabs? Wait, we don’t want to copycat New York.

So it was back to the drawing (or coloring) board, this time with the agreement to pick a single color. Again the public was asked to chime in, and the most popular choice was yellow.

And then the obvious dawned on everyone – D.C. already had a “transportation” color, the color of the Circulator and the soon-to-launch streetcar. So two years after the process started, it was finally decided in 2013 that the cabs should be the exact same color as the Circulator and streetcars.

A perfect match, isn’t it?
Streetcars on H St. NE

The color is Pantone 032. It’s a medium-bright red that is a bit desaturated.

Once the idea of red was proposed, it was easily agreed that it was the right choice for D.C., since red was also the color of the D.C. flag and the Caps (those reds are darker and more saturated and arguably a nicer shade of red, but still, red is red).

The red of champions


Why the gray stripe?

According to the Washington Post, then-Mayor Vincent Gray didn’t like the red color choice. He said, “That would look like a fire engine coming down the street, wouldn’t it?”  So the gray stripe was added (Pantone Warm Gray 2), and only the cynical believe that Mayor Gray wanted a gray stripe out of pride for his name.

Are all cabs red?

Not yet. The required color scheme applies to all cabs that came into service after 2013, and all cabs that have been repainted since then. So there could still be a few left out in the wild.

If you spot a non-red D.C. cab, take a photo and send it our way and we’ll publish it here.

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