Taxicabs, in one form or another, have been around for three centuries or so. Today there are a variety of different cabs, from horse drawn tourist attractions to the standard yellow taxi cab to luxury sedans or limos, all of which people use to get from one place to another. The history of taxi cabs is long and varied, although the rich long ago had themselves “taxied” from one location to another using servants or drivers. And in ancient times, the rich and royalty had themselves transported on the backs of slaves from city to city. Horse-drawn for-hire hackney carriage services began operating in both Paris and London in the early 17th century. Royal proclamations in both cities regulated the number of carriages, which was 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. This familiar mechanical and now often electronic device calculates the fare in most taxicabs and ushered in the modern taxi era. The first modern meter-equipped taxicab was the Daimler Victoria, built by Gottlieb Daimler in 1897. The first motorized taxi company began operating in Stuttgart the same year. Gas powered taxicabs began operating in Paris in 1899, in London in 1903, and in New York in 1907. The New York taxicabs were imported from France by businessperson Harry N. Allen. Allen was the first person to paint his taxicabs yellow, after learning that yellow is the color most easily seen from a distance.
Taxicabs 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 taxicabs and dispatch offices to communicate and serve customers more efficiently than previous methods, such as using call boxes. The next major innovation occurred in the 1980s, when computer assisted dispatching was introduced. There has generally been a legal struggle concerning the certification of motor vehicles to be taxicabs, which take much more wear than a private car does. In London, they are additionally required to meet stringent specifications. 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 stopped manufacturing cabs in the early 1980s. Its cars were specially built to carry “double dates.” But now New York City requires that all taxicabs be ordinary cars. They are mainly long-wheelbase versions of the Ford Crown Victoria. Toyota Sienna minivans are the alternate vehicle of choice in New York’s cab fleet. In the 1960s in Europe, Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot offered diesel taxicabs. With concerns over the high cost of fuel and fuel economy many cabs in the United States are switching to the diesel engine. Alternate fuel cabs, such as ethanol and propane powered vehicles are becoming more and more popular.
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