Notes On The History of Taxi Cabs (REQUIRED READING for Transportation Industry Participants.) -Fred Stock
Back in the early 1600's horse-drawn "taxi" vehicles were used in Paris. They collected a coin from riders as they climbed aboard. 250 years later when gasoline powered horseless carriages were available, taxi-cabs became hirable in both Europe, and in the western hemisphere. As the industry began to grow, politicians saw a source of taxable income, and shortly early mechanical "taximeters" came into existance, under the guise of "protecting the consumer". Who'd-a-thought?
Daimler Victoria -
First Gas Powered Taxi with Taximeter.
By 1899, the streets of New York City had about 100 taxicabs and the first traffic death is said to have occurred there when an out of control taxicab struck a man named Henry Bliss who was assisting a friend exiting a street car. The first "Yellow Taxi" was created by a man named Henry Allen who painted his vehicles a bright color to stand out from the crowd. Ford was still selling only black vehicles at the time.
In ancient times, rich or powerful people were "taxied" from place to place in rectangular chambers ("cabs"), highly decorated and plush or plain and practical, mounted on two or more long poles. The poles were lifted and carried by a team of footmen or slaves who were trained to march in such a way as to provide the least disturbance to the occupant of the chamber. Then before the gasoline powered cabs, came the horse drawn wagons and stage coaches. Canistoga wagons branched off into the trucking industry, but some were actually cut up and the wheels and driver's benches fashioned into two-wheel vehicles used for commercial livery.
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The first records of "taxicabs" we could find came from France and England in the 1600's, in Paris and London. They were governed by orders from the royalty of both countries. There were vehicles powered by batteries in those cities and in New York in the 1890's but they were quickly replaced by the gasoline powered rigs because they would go further and could move faster than the electrics. By the end of the first decade of the 1900's, gasoline powered cabs were being used on both sides of the Atlantic. In Mexico (and elsewhere) a proliferation of "Bicycle Cabs" was seen, as well as Volkswagen Taxi's beginning in the late 1950's.
Over the next hundred years the cabs evolved through Packards and DeSotos and GM Generals, and later Checker Cabs. Later the Chevrolet Caprice became the vehicle of choice for both police and taxi industry uses, and then GM quit making them. Ford picked up the slack with Mercury Grand Marquis and Ford Crown Victoria, and in some locations the Lincoln Town Car. Of late, the popularity of vans and SUV's has seen the common USA use of Ford Aerostar, Chevrolet Astrovan, GMC Safari, Dodge Caravan and the other Chrysler vans, and the Toyota Sienna. In Europe, the Mercedes-Benz is often used, and of course the London Sterling and its look-alikes.
The next step? Well there are numerous possibilities; the "speeder" anti-gravity car as presented in the Star Wars films would certainly generate news in the transportation world. The completely driverless coin-operated auto-navigated vehicles of some science fiction stories could evolve too. That technology is certainly available now. Only the discontinuation of the use of coins entirely would modify that concept. Even then, ask anyone who has visited a casino recently if bills can be accepted by machines. The Star-Trek style transporter (disintegrator-integrator) device would end the physical movement of people and things from place to place except as energy packets. Don't think that is impending on our industry as yet... but then, the guy who opened a buggy-whip factory a little over a hundred years ago didn't think so either.
A few years ago we began developing a plot and characters for a book involving future predictions of society. Everything seemed to be reasonable. I put aside the manuscript and then recently I went over it. What glared back at me was the fusion of all the separate technologies in communications, television and movies, phones, computers, music reproduction into devices which do it all! Nothing is "discrete" any more. You don't have a telephone for calls and a "stereo" for music and a letter box for mail and a fax machine for orders. You have a smart-phone which does it all, and every few months it gets smarter... have you noticed? And... landline phones are losing customers everyday, to portable cell phones. We can name several people who do not have a home or office telephone hooked to the hardwire phone system. They do everything on cellphones or computer video systems. "Pocket change" - that is coins - have already become a rarity. Some people are talking about discontinuing pennies which cost more to mint than they are "worth". We have had to modify our approach to websites to handle mobile phone and tablet screens, etc. Who knows what will be next. And who's to say the vehicle based transportation of our industry is not just a step along a path as yet un-imagined.
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There used to be a song that went, "It's a thrill to take the wheel, of a merry Oldsmobile..." Those are gone now... along with Mercury, Edsel, Checker, Desoto, Imperial, Caprice, Crown Victoria and the staple of our industry, Yugo! :-} Is Plymouth still around? Don't know.You may have a dozen more which were once a dependable part of our world - now gone. We used to sell coin changers to our customers, several a year. Not any more. But one thing is sure. The "vehicle for hire" will be around as long as there are vehicles and people who need a ride in one. After that... hafta wait and see!
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