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culture

Catching Up With the Cosmic Cab

The most festive car in Toronto, Akber Batada's Cosmic Cab spreads some serious holiday joy.

Akber Batada keeps his taxi decked out with decorations for every holiday, but there’s something special about the Christmas explosion happening in the backset of his car, the Cosmic Cab. He’s got wreaths of tinsel, candy canes, and a robot Santa that dances to Gangnam Style. It would completely insane, if it wasn’t so goddamn wonderful.

This isn’t Batada’s first rodeo. He’s been driving a taxi in Toronto for the last 30 years. Seven years ago, he had a dream that he should decorate his car for Christmas—so he did. “I just followed the dream to see what would happen,” he said. It started with a stuffed Santa Claus and some coloured paper: now it’s a multimedia experience.

“On Saturday and Sunday nights, I take out the tambourine and guitar from the trunk and turn on the karaoke. If you look in my car, everyone’s singing and dancing.” From the front seat, Batada points out LED lights, beaded fringe from India, and a magazine rack, and then offers a selection of chewing gum.

He pays for everything out of his own pocket and updates his designs each season. “High-tech things are going on in the world,” he explains. “You have to keep changing with it.” He’s thinking about installing some iPads for next year.

In India, Batada “lived like a king” as a shrimp and lobster exporter. He came to Canada in the ’80s because he wanted his children to have a better education. He gave up the business world to drive a taxi because he could set his own hours and spend more time with his family.

Batada is happy—and his Cosmic Cab makes other people happy, too. He tells story after story about miserable, grumpy people whose spirits are immediately lifted when they climb inside the cab. “People don’t even use the F-word in my cab!” he says.

He’s given rides to people from all around the world. Last year, he was featured on the Beck’s Taxi episode of Undercover Boss. Spoiler Alert: everyone loved him.

Most taxi drivers have a horror story or two, but Batada claims that he’s never had a problem. People tell him all the time that he’s “made their night.”

Batada explained that some of the other drivers don’t like him because they think he’s showing off or stealing business. But no one has ever copied Batada’s Cosmic Cab—he thinks that’s because the decorations are too time-consuming. “It’s definitely a lot of work,” he said, “but it makes my job easier.”

Batada took a normal taxi and transformed it into something spectacular. He knows that sometimes it only takes a candy cane to turn a frown upside down. The Cosmic Cab is a Scrooge-free zone.

Photos by Courtney Vokey.

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