Taxi-top ads fall short of world-class design

taxi ads
In October 2008, mayor Tremblay challenged designers to come up with an identifying signature for Montreal’s taxi fleet. The examples he conjured at the time were New York’s iconic yellow taxis, London’s black cabs, Mexico City’s green buggies, but what they’ve dreamed up for Montreal is little more than a mobile billboard.

The mayor’s challenge was picked up by marketing company Taxicom, who designed the sleek ad boards that will eventually top all of the the city’s 4500 taxis. As of May 3rd, a municipal bylaw was changed to allow advertising on taxis. It will be up to each car’s owner to chose whether or not they want to display ads in the panels.

Taxicom says that the public finds the advertisements beautiful, fun and interesting.

Taxi companies and drivers say that so far, people have mostly confused the ad-topped cabs with with pizza delivery vehicles.

Taxicom are expecting $3 million in revenue from the project this year, and about $150-$200 per month will be handed over to cab owners who  display the ads.

But many drivers won’t profit. That is because the taxi industry in Montreal is a many-layered cake. There are 4500 taxi licences, each one corresponding to a vehicle, and these licenses are currently worth about $210,000. Yet there are almost 10,000 drivers in the city, many of whom don’t have the means to fork over that kind of cash. That means that taxi owners and taxi drivers are not necessarily the same folks. Some people make a business of snapping up a number of taxi licences and renting the licenced vehicles out on a daily basis.

Many taxi drivers rent their cabs for about $75 per shift (they also pay their gas). Most drivers also pay a monthly fee, in the range of $275, to a particular taxi company in order to use the radio service. Robert, a taxi driver who shared this info with me wasn’t keen on driving around a billboard for someone else’s profit: he grumbled that the owner could at least decrease the rental price by a few dollars in order to share around the new profits.

Pierre-Leon, a taxi driver and blogger says that his main worry is that clients won’t be able to tell whether a taxi is available, with the glowing billboard out-shining the taxi-light. Another concern is that the taxi companies will lose their own branding.

According to a city official quoted in The Gazette, the change in bylaw that allows for advertising on taxi cabs goes hand in hand with new environmental standards for taxis, such as having heaters to keep cars warm in the winter without idling the engine.

I can hardly complain about funding environmental initiatives with a bit of new ad-revenue. But changing municipal bylaws for a private marketing firm hardly qualifies as a world-class design solution for Montreal’s identity. I guess the city realized this because they’ve since put forward a new contest to design taxi stands instead.


For an eloquent look at life behind the wheel of a cab, check out Pierre-Leon’s blog, Un taxi la nuit.


  1. If people confuse taxis for pizza delivery cars, it’s because they’re mostly beat up pieces of junk. Honestly, most Montreal taxi ranks look like last-chance Taschereau Boulevard second-hand used car lots. The city should impose age limits and perhaps ever model requirements.

    After all, if you can afford $210,000 for a license, you should be able to fork out $25,000 for a basic sedan every five years, and if you can’t, then maybe the fares should go up.

  2. In reply to the commenter above, 

    as far as i know the age of a taxi cab IS regulated.

    A car cannot be older than 10 years, and a new taxi cannot be older than 5 years.

    At least this is what i remember being reported a few years back.

  3. Yeah these new ads are uninspiring. Not sure what was “designed” since they look strikingly similar to the adds that sit atop many New York cabs right now. Except that theirs rightly have a cab number/light both in front and back of the ad.

    I thought this change was to be followed by a somewhat uniform “livery” or colour scheme for Montreal taxis. Did that plan change? Wouldn’t be surprising that the one useful and somehwat cutlurally relevant part of the plan would be dropped but the ugly revenue-generating part stays.

    le sigh…

  4. How much does it cost to place an ad? I think it’s a great space for poetry.

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