Brief History Of Taxicabs

March 17, 2017

Taxis have become part of our culture. They are fastest and easily accessible means of ground transportation. Taxicabs are important part of our business, travel and everyday life in almost every country. Today we have different variety of cabs from horse drawn tourist attractions to standard yellow taxis to luxury sedans or limos. If we properly meditate on today’s taxi, then it takes us around 200 year back when the world witnessed first taxi.

Horse drawn carriages can be considered as predecessor of today’s taxicab. This service began operating in early 17th century in Europe. It used to transfer ferry passengers to their desired destination. Innkeepers in London were able to hire carriages to their visitors and merchants. Parliament passed an act in 1635 to legalize the services of hackney carriages to hire and this is regarded as the first example of taxicab regulation. Major European cities also operated these services; in Paris it was called fiacres.

In 19th century, Joseph Hansom gave a substantial improvement to hackney carriages by designing hansom cab.  Hansom cabs were lighter, faster and safer than its two horse drawn coach.  These coaches could easily traverse through traffic jams. These cabs soon started replacing hackney carriages in other cities around Europe and also were introduced in the United States during the late 19th century, especially in New York City.

After the horse drawn hackney carriages and hansom cabs, taxi services revolutionized with electric battery powered taxis. In mid 19th century, Karl Benz invented the automobile. And as engineers developed new technology, the car improved significantly. By the end of the 1897, the first motorized taxis came about. Walter C. Bersey created a line of taxicabs in London. These cabs were soon named ‘hummingbirds’ because of the sound they made. Across the Atlantic, Samuel’s Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of New York employed a similar vehicle the same year.

The taxi gets its name from taximeter, a device that calculates the fare in almost all taxicabs. The taximeter was invented by German inventor Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav Bruhn. And after another German inventor, Gottlieb Daimler built the first gasoline powered taximeter equipped cab: Daimler Victoria in 1897. These were the inventions that ushered in modern taxicab era. The first motorized taxi company began operating in Stuttgart the same year. After gaining popularity in Germany, the gas powered taxis started operating in Paris in 1899, then London in 1903 and in 1907 it was introduced in New York City by Harry N. Allen. He decided to paints his taxicabs yellow to maximize his vehicles’ visibility.

In early 20th century the taxicabs flourished. By 1910s, there were countless independently owned taxi fleets and several large fleets developing in New York City. The first major innovation after the taximeter was two-way radios in 1940s. These radios enabled efficient communication between taxicab drivers and dispatchers and serve customers more efficiently than previous methods. The next major innovation occurred in 1980s with computer assisted dispatching.

Post 1950s, with the development of automobile engineering, cars became an integral part of our lives. Taxis began to gain prominence and could be spotted in every major city of the world. Taxicabs in London were generally known as black cabs and the drivers need to study for 2-4 years to acquire the basic knowledge of London’s 320 routes. In Spain, taxis are categorized by colored livery according to the city in which they operate. Cuban roads are known for their 60,000 different models vintage cars. American cities, especially New York City is known for their iconic yellow taxis.

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