The History Behind the Taxicab

Taxis have become legendary in American culture. You’ve seen Jimmy Fallon learn how to drive one on the big screen, Miley Cyrus sang about her experience inside one, and books often describe the hero or heroine’s journey in this yellow vehicle.

But haven’t you ever wondered how taxis began? You have an idea that it might have something to do with the invention of the automobile. Or did taxis exist before the car? Here, we’ll tell you everything about the taxis cab, from its humble beginnings to its visionary future.

Taxis of the Past

You might feel surprised to discover that taxis date back to 17th century Europe. Individuals during this time period hired horsedrawn hackney carriages to travel across London, Paris, and other major European cities. Usually merchants, innkeepers, and elitists employed this coach service.

By the mid-1800s, however, carriage services saw a new, faster model called the hansom cab. Joseph Hansom designed a smaller, lighter carriage that only required one horse to pull it. In fact, these coaches could easily traverse city streets and travel around traffic. As a result, this transportation method became increasingly popular.

Taxis Get a Motor

In the 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. And during this same time, Samuel’s Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of New York employed a similar vehicle.

Two years later, Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav Bruhn, a German inventor, crafted the Daimler Victoria, the first gasoline-powered and taximeter-equipped cab. And by 1907, New Yorkers could find this same vehicle on the city streets. To make cabs more visible to patrons, one taxi driver (Henry N. Allen) painted his cabs yellow.

A Change in Design

As the 1920s approached, taxis again changed form. The Checkered Cab Manufacturing Company designed black and white checkered strips that ran down the side of yellow cabs. This feature made these taxis notorious in New York culture for years.

And as taxis became more popular to and more affordable for the masses, cab companies realized they would have to instigate driving and passenger regulations. These guidelines ensured that drivers would receive fair compensation for their services, while passengers paid acceptable prices.

By 1950, more than 12,000 taxicabs serviced New York. And as time passed, these vehicles spread like wildfire across the nation. Residents of almost every major city in the United States could find the iconic yellow cabs on the streets.

Protection for Passengers and Drivers

To better protect taxi drivers and offer improved services for passengers, business owners established the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 1971. The company instituted several ingenuities to make taxi and transport services safer for passengers, drivers, and the environment.

During the 1980s, violence against cab drivers increased. As a result, drivers installed for the bulletproof divider inside their taxis. And to improve passenger-driver communication, designers inserted a small sliding “window” in the partition.

In 2012, the number of licensed cab drivers in the United States rose to almost 234,000. These vehicles operate 24-hours a day, 7days a week, rain or shine. Today, you will see cabs in a range of models and vehicle types including:

  • Classic checkered yellow cabs
  • Minivans
  • Ford Explorers
  • Crown Victorias
  • Hybrid electric cars

Cabs in the Future

In recent years, and especially in the last two, cab drivers have noticed an emerging competitor. Most likely, you’ve heard of Uber as a taxicab alternative. Founded by Travis Kalanick, this upcoming company adds a spin to the hire-a-vehicle transport service.

Passengers simply need to download the Uber app onto their smartphones, and they can hire a car with the swipe of a finger. These individuals create an online profile, add a credit card number and other information, and then hire an Uber vehicle for all of their transportation needs.

And since the process works seamlessly, this option appears more convenient than a traditional taxi service. After all, why rummage through your wallet for cash and coins when you can prepay your fare on a credit card?

However, passengers haven’t felt as comfortable in Uber vehicles as they have in taxis. According to an article the New York Times published in early 2015, Uber patrons feel like riding in one of these vehicles compares to a job interview-you must dress well, sit professionally, and make a good impression.

Interestingly, this same article reported that passengers can rate drivers on their service. But this same feature also allows drivers to rate passengers on their decorum and other factors. So drivers can deny service if they so choose. As a result, many passengers feel like taxis still remain a better transportation option.

As time and technology introduce new features for the taxicab, remember its history. Recall how this popular form of transportation began and where it can go. And the next time you flag down a cab at the airport or in downtown Phoenix, remind yourself that you just might see more changes in taxis in the near future.