Mumbai's iconic 'kaali-peeli' taxis exit the city

The iconic black-and-yellow ‘Premier Padmini’ taxis, affectionately referred to as ‘kaali-peeli,’ have taken their final bow on the bustling streets of Mumbai.

These taxis have been an integral part of Mumbai’s identity for several decades and were recently retired, following the phasing out of the city’s iconic red double-decker diesel buses operated by the BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport) undertaking, reported TOI.

The last Premier Padmini taxi to be officially registered as a black-and-yellow taxi in Mumbai was noted on October 29, 2003, at the Tardeo RTO, responsible for the island city of Mumbai. This marked the beginning of the end for Premier Padmini taxis in Mumbai since the city’s cab age limit is 20 years.

According to a TOI report, Abdul Kareem Karsekar, a resident of Prabhadevi and the proud owner of the last registered Premier Padmini taxi in Mumbai, bearing registration number MH-01-JA-2556, expressed his emotional attachment, describing these taxis as “the pride of Mumbai and his life.”

This transition comes closely on the heels of the retirement of Mumbai’s legendary diesel-powered double-decker buses, a loss that left transportation enthusiasts disheartened. Some have called for the preservation of at least one ‘Premier Padmini‘ on the road or in a museum.

Daniel Sequeira, a classic car enthusiast, highlighted the sentimental value of these robust cabs, which have been a part of Mumbai’s landscape for over five decades. He suggested that, like old monuments, these iconic cabs should be preserved as “living monuments.”

Several years ago, the Mumbai Taximen’s Union, a significant taxi driver union in the city, had sought government intervention to preserve at least one ‘kaali-peeli’ but was unsuccessful in their endeavor.

Mumbai now boasts more than 40,000 black-and-yellow cabs, although in the late ’90s, there were approximately 63,000 of them, including the distinct ‘blue and silver’ air-conditioned “cool cabs.”

As per a TOI report, A.L. Quadros, the general secretary of the Mumbai Taximens Union, recalled that the journey of Premier Padmini taxis began in 1964 with the ‘Fiat-1100 Delight’ model, known for its 1200-cc engine and steering-mounted gear shifter. The model underwent rebranding in the 1970s, transitioning to “Premier President” and ultimately “Premier Padmini.” This iconic car, manufactured by Premier Automobile Limited (PAL), retained its name until production ceased in 2001.

However, approximately 100-125 Premier Padmini taxis remained unregistered for a long period after production ceased due to the unavailability of spare parts and other factors. Car dealers eventually secured their registration in 2003, and the last registered taxi from that period is now set to be retired.

Premier Padminis were widely embraced by taxi drivers due to their compact size, reliable engines, and ease of maintenance. Yet, the lack of spare parts became a significant issue once production stopped, leading taxi drivers to transition to various hatchback models from Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai.

These iconic Premier Padmini cabs not only served as daily modes of transportation but also featured prominently in Mumbai’s cultural heritage, making appearances in many Bollywood films. They were often shown at the beginning of old Bollywood movies to establish the backdrop of Mumbai.

Mumbai’s black-and-yellow taxi color scheme, suggested by freedom fighter V.B. Gandhi, is the city’s signature. Gandhi recommended painting the upper part of the cabs yellow for better visibility and the lower part black to conceal stains.

Karsekar, the owner of the last Premier Padmini taxi in Mumbai, expressed his desire to preserve the vehicle, even though spare parts are scarce. People continue to appreciate the cab for its nostalgic charm and prefer it over modern alternatives for the unique experience it offers. Karsekar shared heartwarming stories of passengers who specifically chose to travel in his cab to preserve memories of these iconic taxis, underlining their enduring appeal.

Raees Ahmed, another taxi driver whose Premier Padmini recently reached its age limit, attributed his ability to support his family and provide education to his brothers and children to his 15-year tenure driving this model.

(With inputs from TOI)

Roy Walsh

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