THE yellow cab, that icon of the city, is changing shape.
Before 2003, when the Taxi and Limousine Commission authorized Toyota Siennas for use as medallion cabs, minivan taxis of some other makes and models were permitted but rare. Since then, a few hundred new minivans, mostly Siennas, have entered service each year, and they now make up about 10 percent of the city’s nearly 13,000 taxis.
The challenge to the Ford Crown Victoria — by far the most common yellow cab — may well continue, not only with further inroads by regular minivans but also with 54 minivans that are more handicapped-accessible and are due to enter the fleet in coming months, along with more than 200 hybrid sport-utility vehicles.
Matthew W. Daus, the T.L.C. commissioner, likes this different look. “I haven’t heard a negative thing from either a driver or a passenger about the minivans,” he said. The commission is studying ways to overhaul the design of city cabs starting next year, and Mr. Daus said, “A minivan is certainly up there prominently in terms of the way the vehicles might end up looking.”
Victor Salazar, who owns a 2004 Toyota Sienna minivan taxi, is another fan. The minivans, which have six-cylinder engines, use less gas than the eight-cylinder Crown Victorias, drivers said. Minivan drivers also sit a little higher and have a little more room, which makes a big difference in a 12-hour shift. “I never found myself comfortable in the Crown Victoria,” Mr. Salazar said. “Maybe some taxi drivers are short, but I’m 5 foot 10.”
There are dissenting views. While Mr. Salazar said many passengers enjoyed the minivan ride, drivers said that some older people struggled with opening the sliding doors or with stepping into the cabs, which sit higher than the Crown Victorias. Mr. Salazar knows of one minivan driver who has a set of plastic steps for riders.
Also, the large cab companies prefer the Crown Victoria for its durability. Parts for the Siennas wear out faster and cost more than Crown Victoria parts, said Richard Wissak, co-owner of 55 Stan Operating Corporation, a 125-cab fleet based in Long Island City. Company-owned cars — as opposed to privately owned ones, like Mr. Salazar’s — face more wear because they may be driven as much as 22 or 23 hours a day, by multiple drivers.
“The minivans, the fleets really discovered that they were just not holding up,” said Michael Woloz, spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, an industry group.
And, Mr. Woloz added, the Crown Victoria, which Ford extended by six inches a few years ago, now has more legroom than a minivan.
Mr. Salazar said his big cab boasted an extra benefit: on his days off, he can load it up with family and supplies and head for the beach.
“If the parts weren’t so expensive for the Toyota,” he said, “I’d be the happiest taxi driver in Manhattan.”