• Monday, December 04, 2023


Mumbai’s ending histories: After the double-decker, city’s iconic ‘kaali-peeli’ taxi runs its course

The taxis, that remained an integral aspect of Mumbai’s (formerly Bombay) identity for six decades, ran for the one last time on October 19 after their 20-year-life ended.

Commuters walk alongside Premier Padmini ‘kaali-peeli’ taxis on the streets of Mumbai, India. (Photo by ROB ELLIOTT/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

INDIA’S financial capital Mumbai is in the middle of shedding history in the realm of its public transportation. A month after its iconic red double-decker buses went off the city’s streets as their codal lives concluded, it was time for the legendary ‘kaali-peeli’ (yellow-black) Premier Padmini (Fiat) taxis to follow suit.

The taxis, that remained an integral aspect of Mumbai’s (formerly Bombay) identity for six decades, ran for the one last time on Sunday (29). It was on October 29 in 2003 that the last Premier Padmini taxi was officially registered as a ‘kaali-peeli’ taxi at Mumbai’s Tardeo regional transport office. The taxi’s age limit is 20 years and the final registration marked the beginning of their end in the ‘Maximum City’ which also had trams plying on its streets once. Incidentally, the Premier Padmini taxis started running in 1964, the same year the trams disappeared from Mumbai.

Mumbai's now-defunct iconic red double-decker bus.
Commuters ride on the iconic red double-decker bus on the last day of its service in the Indian city of Mumbai on September 15, 2023. These buses have also featured in productions from Bollywood, India’s renowned Hindi film industry. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images)

Premier Automobiles Limited was launched in Mumbai under license from Fiat Millecento. Even though Premier Padmini lost out to modern cars in the post-liberalised Indian economy along with the likes of Hindustan Ambassador, it continued to be people’s favourite as taxis, just like the Ambassador taxis in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

‘Kaali-peeli’ Ambassador taxis have ceased to operate in Kolkata but their yellow counterparts are still on the roads.

Abdul Kareem Karsekar, the man who has the final registered ‘kaali-peeli’ taxi in Mumbai, is still proud about his possession. Speaking to Jagran Josh news outlet, he said “Yeh Mumbai ki shaan hain aur hamari jaan hai” (this is Mumbai’s splendour and my life).

The reason why the Premier Padmini taxis will no longer be permitted to operate on Mumbai’s roads is that the 20-year-life rule, set for all taxis by the Maharashtra City Taxi Rules 2017, has ended.

Experts advise non-continuation of vehicles that are aged as the machines’ efficiency decreases and they cause more pollution.

The end of the road for the iconic taxi has seen public reactions with many suggesting that they should be preserved in museums.

Indian industrialist Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group that also manufactures vehicles, paid a tribute to the Premier Padmini taxis and said while they were noisy and not too comfortable, memories attached to them were endless.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he wrote, “From today, the iconic Premier Padmini Taxi vanishes from Mumbai’s roads. They were clunkers, uncomfortable, unreliable, noisy. Not much baggage capacity either. But for people of my vintage, they carried tons of memories. And they did their job of getting us from point A to point B. Goodbye and alvida, kaali-peeli taxis. Thank you for the good times…”

Related Stories