In one form or another, taxis have been around for maybe millennia, or at least since the invention of chariots and wagons. Even before the wheel, royalty and people of merit were borne on litters, usually carried by the strongest and best-looking slaves. In modern times, we typically think of a taxi as a car for hire, usually paid by distance, time, or destination. Regarding this latest form of the taxi, how long has this been around? Here’s a brief history of the taxis of the past, present, and what we might expect in the future.
What’s in A Name?
The first taxis came along soon after the invention of the automobile, but they weren’t called taxis until at least the late 1890s or early 1900s. The short-name “Taxi” is derived from an 1891 invention, the “taximeter,” developed by Wilhelm Bruhn. The taximeter was a mechanical device – it was eventually replaced by an electronic device – that calculated the fare based on distance, and the first “taxi” appeared in 1897, a Daimler Victoria with a taximeter built in.
Unsurprisingly, Stuttgart, Germany, was the first city to employ a more-or-less modern motorized taxi fleet. But cities worldwide would eventually start using similarly-equipped fleets, Paris in 1899, London in 1903, and New York in 1907, for example.
Look and Feel
In the early years, taxis were typically built as such, featuring larger doors, security glass, or other passenger-related comfort items. London Black Taxis are noted for being quite maneuverable, featuring a tight 28-foot turning circle (previously 25 feet). No longer custom-built, New York taxis are required to be production vehicles, including modern hybrids and accessibility-modified vans and SUVs.
With so many people needing transportation, taxi fleets flourished in big cities, usually taking on a certain look or style, but not all have been Checkered or Yellow:
- In the 1920s, John Hertz founded the Yellow Cab Company, all painted yellow because they were the most visible from a distance.
- Checker Cab Manufacturing originated in Chicago, providing distinctive Checker cabs, featuring a black and white or yellow checkerboard pattern along the side.
- In what might be an unusual choice of color, the London Black Cab was black for decades, though today they can be found in other colors and advertising wraps.
- Worldwide, there are dozens of other taxi liveries, ranging from a “taxi” sticker in the window to distinctive paint schemes, advertising space, even full body wraps.
A Shared Future
Today, depending on local regulation, taxis appear in many shapes and colors, but future services might not even be called taxis. Car-sharing, ride-sharing, and companies like Uber and Lyft could change the face of taxis. Such programs have become more popular than ever, a ride or a car as close as a smartphone tap away.
While taxi companies fight back with regulation, the sharing economy may never overtake them. Still, maybe these companies have shown the taxi companies how it could be done. Adapting as they have over the last century, future taxis might not be much different than today.