- Alternative meaning: taxicab geometry.
A taxicab (sometimes called taxi, cab, or hack) is a vehicle for hire which conveys passengers between locations of their choice. (In most other modes of public transport, the pick-up and drop-off locations are determined by the service provider, not by the passenger.) Although types of vehicles and methods of regulation, hiring, dispatching, and negotiating payment differ significantly from country to country, some common characteristics exist.
History and etymology
Horse-drawn for-hire hackney carriage service began operating in both Paris and London in the early 17th century. Royal proclamations in both cities regulated the number of carriages--the first example of taxicab regulation. In the 19th century, Hansom cabs largely replaced the older designs because of their improved speed and safety.
Although battery-powered vehicles enjoyed a brief success in Paris, London, and New York in the 1890s, the 1891 invention by German Wilhelm Bruhn of the taximeter (the familiar mechanical and now often electronic device that calculates the fare in most taxis) ushered in the modern taxi. (The "taxi" in "taximeter" is related to the word "tax," or "rate.") The first modern, gas-powered, meter-equipped taxi was the Daimler Victoria , built by Gottfried Daimler in 1897; the first motorized taxi company began operating in Stuttgart the same year.
Gas-powered, meter-equipped taxis began operating in Paris in 1899, in London in 1903, and in New York in 1907. The New York taxis were imported from France by businessperson Harry N. Allen , who adapted the French word taxi-mètre and coined the word "taxicab" to describe the vehicles he was importing. In time, the shortened term "taxi" came into common usage. (Allen was also the first person to paint his taxis yellow, after learning that yellow is the colour most easily seen from a distance.)
Taxis proliferated around the world in the early 20th century. The first major innovation after the invention of the taximeter occurred in the late 1940s, when two-way radios first appeared in taxicabs. Radios enabled taxis and dispatch offices to communicate and serve customers more efficiently than previous methods, such as using callboxes. The next major innovation occurred in the 1980s, when computer assisted dispatching was first introduced.
There has generally been a legal struggle concerning the certification of motor vehicles to be taxis, which take much more wear than a private car does. In Britain, they were additionally required to meet stringent specifications, for example, as concerns turn radius, which resulted for a time in having only one make legally usable. In the US, in the 1930s the cabs were often DeSotos or Packards. General Motors offered a specialized vehicle for a time, named the General. The firm Checker came into existence then, and went out of business in the 1970s. Its cars were specially built to carry "double dates." But now New York City requires that all taxicabs be ordinary cars. They are usually large Fords. In the 1960s in Europe, Mercedes Benz and Peugeot offered diesel taxicabs. This form of engine is now quite common there.
(Sources: BBC America: Ask a Cabby; The New York City Taxicab Fact Book (2003), p. 22; Today in Science History).
Taxi service is typically provided by automobiles, but various human- and animal-powered vehicles or boats are also used or were used historically. In northern Europe it is not uncommon for expensive cars such as the Mercedes-Benz to be the taxi of choice, often this decision is based upon the perceived reliability of, and warranty offered with these vehicles. Taxis in less developed places can be a completely different experience, such as the ancient French cars typically found in Cairo. Taxis differ in other ways as well: London's black cabs have large compartment beside the driver for storing bags, while many fleets of regular taxis also include wheelchair accessible taxis among their numbers. Although taxis have traditionally been sedans, minivan and even SUV taxis are becoming increasingly common. In many cities, limousines operate as well, usually in competition with taxis and at higher fares.
Originally, hackney carriage companies were distinguished from each other by their drivers' livery (uniforms) and by the colours of their carriages. For example, at the end of the 19th century in Paris, Compagnie Generale carriages were painted blue, while those of Abeille were painted green ("The Paris Cabman"). During the early years of the twentieth century, private cars were usually black because paints of other colors were not durable. Taxis were the exception, as they would be touched up or worn out. Around the world today, taxi companies are still distinguished by the way their cars are painted.
In North America, many older taxi companies are named according to their paint schemes. Thus, "Yellow Cabs" are painted yellow, Checker Cabs have a distinctive black-and-white or black-and-yellow checkerboard stripe around their bodies, "Blue and White Cabs" might have blue bodies and white roofs, and "Black Top" and "Red Top Cabs" have black and red roofs respectively. In the 1920s, a famous company named "Brown and White" lost a lawsuit to prevent other taxi drivers from painting their cars these colors.
In a slightly different sense of livery, the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers became a City of London Livery Company in 2004.
It is often the case that people in general use the term "taxi" to refer to both the black cab and the minicab. This is incorrect, and when a minicab company uses the word taxi on their livery it can lead to prosecution by the local government body. A cab that cannot be flagged down on the street is known as a private hire vehicle . Both taxis and drivers are regulated to greatly varying degrees in different places, from free-for-all to highly restrictive licensing schemes. In many countries, the number of taxis and the areas where they may operate are strictly controlled by a regulatory body. (Paradoxically, taxis are often most heavily regulated in wealthy, laissez-faire economies--as examplified by the strict systems in London and New York, which are discussed below.) In such systems, a person must purchase a license or medallion if he or she wishes to own a taxi. In many jurisdictions, both owners and non-owning drivers of taxis are also tested and licensed by the police or the regulatory body. Police checks and more extensive background checks, training courses and chaperones are often used when drivers are asked to deal with special needs customers on a regular basis.
Taxis are often "hailed" or "flagged" on the street, either by a passenger as a taxi is driving by, or at a taxi stand (sometimes also called a "taxi rank", "cab stand," or "hack stand"). Taxi stands are usually located at airports, railway stations, and hotels, as well as at other places where large numbers of passengers are likely to be found. In some places--Japan, for example--taxi stands are arranged according to the size of the taxis, so that large- and small-capacity cabs line up separately. Passengers also commonly call a central dispatch office for taxis. Private Hire vehicles can only be hired from the dispatch office, they have to be given each fare they carry over the radio or from their office. To pick up off the street can lead to suspension and revocation of the driver's taxi license and prosecution. This doesn't always stop it from happening, but people standing at the road side rarely understand why a taxi won't stop for them.
The activity of taxi fleets is usually monitored and controlled by a central office, which provides dispatching, accounting, and human resources services to one or more taxi companies. Taxi owners and drivers usually communicate with the dispatch office through either a 2-way radio or a computer terminal (called a mobile data terminal). Before the innovation of radio dispatch in the 1950s, taxi drivers would use a callbox--a special telephone at a taxi stand--to contact the dispatch office. When a customer calls for a taxi, a trip is dispatched by either radio or computer to the most suitable cab. The most suitable cab may either be the one closest to the pick-up address (often determined by GPS coordinates nowadays) or the one that was the first to book in to the "zone" surrounding the pickup address. In offices using radio dispatch, taxi locations are often tracked using magnetic "pegs" on a "board"--a metal sheet with an engraved map of taxi zones. In computerized dispatch, the status of taxis is tracked by the computer system.
For the distance travelled, fares for taxis are usually higher than for other forms of public transport (bus, tram, metro, train). The fare often does not depend on the number of people travelling together in a taxi. Sometimes there is a system where strangers share a taxi and fares are per person. Fares are usually calculated according to a combination of distance and waiting time, and are measured by a taximeter ("meter" for short and the origin of the word "taxi"). Instead of a metered fare, passengers sometimes pay a flat fare. In some countries, when demand is high--for instance, late at night--a taxi will pick up whoever offers the highest fare.
Most experienced taxi drivers who have been working in the same city or region for a while would be expected to know the most important streets and places where their customers might want to go. However, to aid the process of manual navigation and the taxi driver's memory (and the customer's as well at times) there is an increased use of GPS driven navigational systems in the more wealthy countries around the world.
Taxis around the World
The first horse-drawn forerunners of taxis appeared on Parisian streets in 1637. France was one of the first countries to use modern taxis--that is, gasoline-powered vehicles with fare meters. New York's first taxis were imported from France in 1907, and taxis were famously used for troop transportation during the First Battle of the Marne.
Horse-drawn hackney carriages began providing taxi service in the early 17th century. In 1636, the number of carriages was set at 50--an early example of taxicab regulation. In the same year, the owner of 4 hackney carriages established the first taxi stand in The Strand. In the early 19th century, cabriolets ("cabs" for short) replaced the heavier and more cumbersome hackney carriages. Battery-operated taxis appeared briefly at the end of the 19th century, but modern taxi service took off with the appearance of gas-powered, metered taxis in the early 1900s. Today, taxi service in London is provided by the famous black cabs (depicted in the photo above) and by quasi-legal minicabs. Only black cabs can pick up flag trips on the street, and both black cabs and minicabs are also radio- or computer-dispatched. Black cabs--also known as hackney carriages, or hackney cabs--are particularly famous on account of the specially constructed vehicles and the extensive training course ("The Knowledge") required for fully licensed drivers; unlike many other cities, the number of taxi drivers is not limited. London's cab drivers are even well-known for having developed an especially big hippocampus, a region of the brain where, among other things, information about locations is stored (this is likely the case with many other taxi drivers, as well--not just those of London). (Sources: The History of the Black Taxi; and others.)
In New York City, radio dispatching was introduced to that city's famous fleet of yellow taxis in the 1960s. After complaints from customers who would be passed up on the street by taxis on the way to pick up dispatched trips, a new regulation was introduced requiring radio-equipped taxis to not be painted yellow. The city's taxi system is now divided into "medallion taxis"--the familiar, meter-equipped yellow taxis visible in photographs, films, and television programs, and which are allowed to pick up flagging passengers on the street--and "for-hire vehicles"--including "car services" (conventional taxis) and "black cars" (luxury vehicles)--which provide radio- or computer-dispatched service to calling customers. For-hire vehicles do not have taxi meters, but instead charge fares based on zones, duration, or distance. (Sources: The New York City Taxicab Fact Book (2003), p. 24-26; NYC Taxi & Livery Fact Book Definitions).
In Hong Kong, there are three types of taxis, painted in different colours, serving different parts of the territory. The most common one, which is painted in red, serves throughout Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Green taxis serve the New Territories and blue taxis serve Lantau Island. Taxis pick passengers from streets, or by radio-dispatch by phone. Fares are charged according to the distance measured by meters. Surcharges include tolls, luggages and pets.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04