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Are Taxis Public Space?

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A Montreal Taxi driver is contesting a $1400 fine for decorating his dashboard with flags, family photos, and mezuzas (Hebrew scrolls). The Taxi Bureau issued the ticket to Mr. Perecowicz in accordance with a municipal bylaw which limits the decor within a taxi to items “required for the taxi to be in service.” 

The story has Radio Canada contemplating whether taxis constitute a public space.

This debate brings to mind all the unique, sometimes garish buses that I rode in Central America, where “public transit” is almost always privately owned. Bus drivers own and carefully maintain their vehicles, which often proudly sport paintings of Jesus, Bruce Willis, or the drivers’ daughter. Stepping inside a bus, you may find yourself dazzled with posters, streamers, Christmas lights, dangling disco-balls and music pumping as loud as any discotheca.

Buhu Banton Bus

While being bombarded with Reggaeton at all hours of the day or night is not my favourite, I’d still rather deal with a bus driver whose livelihood is tied to his vehicle, route and schedule than many of the grumpy, cog-in-a-machine transit employees you’ll find in this town.

Usually Spacing Montreal is all for the creation and celebration of public spaces. But in this case, public space seems to be equated with BLAND space.

Personally, I’d rather be in a place that somebody cares about and takes care of. Cabbies spend long days behind the wheel – why should they be prohibited from creating an environment that reflects this? I sincerely hope that few Montrealers would be offended by a glimpse of photos, flags, religious symbols or cultural artifacts.  If we can’t handle that, maybe we need MORE rather than less displays of cultural and religious diversity in public space. (Obviously laws pertaining to really inappropriate stuff like hate material and pornography would still apply.)

Mr. Perecowicz says he has never received a complaint from a customer.

Meanwhile, Mayor Tremblay has expressed the desire to create a unique and recognizable brand for the city’s taxis. Well, perhaps the answer is right under his nose. More than many other public-service jobs, taxi-drivers represent Montreal’s cultural diversity. Instead of creating a fleet of identical, yet unremarkable cabs, why not capitalize on our diversity and actually encourage drivers to personalize their taxis? Tourists will scrable to hail cabs for every trip with the promise that each car offers a unique ambiance.

What do Spacing Montreal readers think? If taxis function as a public space once a client steps inside, do we prefer professional neutrality or a glimpse of the personality behind the wheel?

Photo by Alexandra Gaudreau: Buju Banton bus in Panama.



  1. While I rarely use taxis, I can see how it could be fun and interesting when you never know how the inside of one will be decked out before you get in. However, I don’t think you can mandate this to forcefully create a brand for our city’s taxis. I see a situation like in the movie “Office Space” arising, where employees at the local “Shenanigans” restaurant are forced to wear x amount of pieces of flair (buttons) to express their individuality and passion for the job, and Jennifer Aniston gets reprimanded for only having the minimum amount of flair. But I really like that movie, so maybe that’s a good thing.

  2. Personalized all the way. Generic transport is good for vehicle recognition. That’s it. The more a driver wants to make their vehicle unique, the better.

  3. Encourager les chauffeurs de taxi à personnaliser leur véhicule (peut-être en instituant un concours ?) c’est la meilleure idée que j’ai entendue depuis longtemps. Et c’est vraiment riche d’aborder les taxis comme espace public.

  4. I lived in London, England, where there is a whole alternative system to the black cabs. I was able to get a cabbie I could call any time for personalized service, almost like a chauffeur (if he was available). He was the most awesome person, and even invited his clients over for dinner parties! I like the idea of personalized vehicles and even the option of contacting favourite cabbies directly.

  5. I wonder what inspired Mayor Tremblay to propose a uniform look for the city’s taxis. Was there a problem with identifying them in a streetscape filled with similar cars? To me, the little illuminated boxes on the roof seem to suffice in representing “Taxi for Hire”.

    Perhaps focusing on correcting the obvious and important issue of crumbling infrastructure would be more pertinent right now.

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  6. Once they start “personalizing” their cabs, they will also add odors and loud music. I like simplicity. I don’t care about the inside of a cab as long as it doesn’t bother me, but in my opinion they should all look the same on the outside to facilitate recognition. But then again I am both a little bit OCD and South-American, so there is no way for me to see charm in the type of things that have been annoying me my whole life.

  7. “I’d still rather deal with a bus driver whose livelihood is tied to his vehicle, route and schedule than many of the grumpy, cog-in-a-machine transit employees you’ll find in this town.

    “Usually Spacing Montreal is all for the creation and celebration of public spaces. But in this case, public space seems to be equated with BLAND space.”

    Some of us are glad for a bit of a reprieve from repressive desublimation, “creativizing” and the inevitable artistico-commodification. If the transit drivers aren’t totally fun dudes maybe you should address the root causes instead of trying to make them wear wacky coloured hats or whatever.

    So if we’re to display cultural symbols and culturalize taxis, how about wearing burquas? And what if a taxi driver refuses to accept a lone woman as a passenger because of his religious convictions?

  8. Yeah, my vote is definitely for personalized, cultural taxis as the signature of this city’s fleet. That’s a great idea!

  9. Personal. Some generic, rigid, and visually monotonous fleet would be so not Montreal.

  10. While they’re on the job, taxi drivers should show some professionalism and keep personalization to a minimum. It’s bad enough they yap on their cell phones while driving you, now you’ll have to put up with whatever tackiness they deem desirable to place in their taxi? No thanks. I’m not paying for kitsch, I’m paying for a ride.

  11. Had you seen the “mambo taxi” in Pedro Almodovar’s movie “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”? Probably the most famous personalize taxi on the history of cinema.à

    Coming from a culture where “public space” is invaded by “the public”, I have to admit that sometimes I miss “human touch” on, for example, the bus here in Montreal. That’s why I love when something crazy occurs suddenly on the bus, for example, when a homeless with a bottle of wine in a paper bag sang Oh Canada!
    But a bus or the subway or a taxi are not public spaces, they are transportation vehicles.

    In Montreal, the taxi vehicle belongs to the driver which is not the case, for example in New York with the yellow ones.

    Leave the taxi driver to do what he wants with his property! If you don’t like the “decors”, take another taxi! So easy like that! Which is not so easy with the bus because you will wait half an hour to take the following one!

  12. I have to disagree with the author on this one –

    As a minority, I don’t necessarily want to be confronted with the drivers’ political or religious beliefs (and (s)he may not care for mine either). A taxi is not public space, it is paid for private space, and quite an intimate one at that too (anyone who’s sat sweltering in summer traffic to Dorval knows that’s true). I think the debate is about where to draw the line about what’s acceptable and what’s not. It would appear the taxi administration has drawn quite restrictive guidelines, probably to avoid getting drawn into an endless debate about accommodements raisonnables.

    Donovan makes a good point, and in fact NZ is another country where there are “official” taxis, with corporate standards, and “grey” taxis, where you can get all the thrills, excitement and “personality” that you could care for. Perhaps the City should be giving consumers, and drivers, the choice of which kind of service they prefer.

  13. The thing that bothers me about the story is that if the driver had had Christian, Quebecois ethnic iconography he would never have been fined. It’s how things work in Quebec, but it doesn’t make it right.

  14. Shawn, so right! Nationalism is the one and only thing that made me leave Montreal for Toronto, which I otherwise despise. Also the one thing that explains why there are so few young Jews in Montreal compared to Toronto: you can’t ask people to adopt a wait-and-see attitude to nationalism after the European experience.

  15. I have to say I disagree. We’re not oppressing people by asking them to do their job efficiently and unobtrusively. I don’t enjoy being treated to bus drivers’ radio preferences even as it is. It’s too bad, so sad for the drivers, but they’re not there to express their personalities, they’re there to drive a vehicle. If they’re motivated to express themselves, they should look for different work or find an activity outside their job as an outlet.

    Likewise I don’t want to cope with a taxi driver’s private life and beliefs. I don’t often grab a cab, but when I do I’m usually in a hurry and just want to get moving. The last time I did this, the cabbie gave me an earful about how swine flu was God’s revenge on sinners. Whatever. Step on it, and leave out the sermon. If Perecowicz didn’t receive any complaints it was because people just wanted to get to their destination and not waste time engaging with him, not because they enjoyed the visual junk he has in his taxi.

  16. I use Montreal taxis almost every day. I for one, would love for the taxis to be as uniform as possible.

    Montreal taxis are not cheap but the fleet is comprised of dozens of different models of cars in conditions ranging from excellent to horrible.

    I have ridden in Montreal taxis that did not have functioning seat belts, felt like they were about to fall apart or where just generally filthy.

    The biggest problem by far is the lack of professionalism of the drivers. Drivers should be tested on their knowledge of the city before being licensed. How the hell can you be a Taxi driver in Montreal and not know where DR Penfield ave is??

    We still cannot pay by interact. You practically have to beg to use a credit card for a $40.00 fare to the airport. The method for accepting credit cards uses the antiquated old paper slips (the absolute least secure method of processing credit cards.

    I would rather not have all the wacky crap festooned all over the car either but there are much bigger problems to fix first.

  17. Bill, Taxi Hochelaga requires that their entire fleet have wireless Interac machines. I’m not affiliated with them but they’re prevalent in downtown, plateau, and east end and I’ve never had a problem. Until all cabs in the city take electronic payment, I’ll keep calling these guys to give them my business.

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