Taxi’s of yesterday’s future

We all have most likely took a ride in a taxi at one point in our lives. Taxi’s are a very common sight in metropolis areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco.

A taxicab, also taxi or cab, is a type of vehicle for hire, with a driver, for a single passenger, or small group of passengers, typically for a non-shared ride. A taxicab conveys passengers between locations of their choice. In modes of public transport, the pick-up and drop-off locations are determined by the service provider, not by the passenger, although demand responsive transport and share taxis provide a hybrid bus/taxi mode.

Four distinct forms of ‘taxicab’ can be identified, by slightly differing terms in different countries: Hackney Carriage, also known as public hire, hailed or street taxis, available for hire and reward and for hailing on street; Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs), also known as minicabs (Private Hire vehicles in London are only available by pre-booking, not (legally) available for hailing on street; it is also illegal to pass off a Private Hire vehicle or minicab by calling it a taxi); Taxibuses, also known as Jitneys, operating on pre-set routes for hire and reward, typified by multiple stops and multiple independent passengers; and Limousines, specialized vehicle licensed for operation by pre-booking.

Although types of vehicles and methods of regulation, hiring, dispatching, and negotiating payment differ significantly from country to country, many common characteristics exist.

Taximeters existed in ancient Rome, where they employed a mechanism that used the turning of the cart’s axle to release small balls. At the end of the trip, the passenger paid based on the number of released balls. The modern taximeter was invented by German Wilhelm Bruhn in 1891, and the Daimler Victoria—the world’s first meter-equipped (and gasoline-powered) taxicab—was built by Gottlieb Daimler in 1897.

Taximeters were originally mechanical and mounted outside the cab, above the driver’s side front wheel. Meters were soon relocated inside the taxi, and in the 1980s electronic meters were introduced, doing away with the once-familiar ticking sound of the meter’s timing mechanism.

In some locations, taxicabs display a small illuminated sign indicating if they are vacant. In Argentina, this sign is called a “banderita” (little flag), a carryover term from the days of mechanical taximeters, in which a little flag was turned to wind up the mechanism. The flag would be hidden at the start of a trip and moved to the visible position at the end.

Horse-drawn for-hire hackney carriage services began operating in both Paris and London in the early 17th century. The first documented service was started by Nicolas Sauvage in Paris in 1640. His vehicles were known as fiacres, as the main vehicle depot apparently was opposite a shrine to Saint Fiacre. (The term fiacre is still used in French to describe a horse-drawn vehicle for hire, while the German term Fiaker is used, especially in Austria, to refer to the same thing). In London the Hackney Carriage Act (1635) became the first legislated control in English on vehicles for hire. In the 19th century, Hansom cabs largely replaced the older designs because of their improved speed and safety.

The first taxi service in Toronto, “The City”, was established in 1837 by Thornton Blackburn, an ex-slave whose escape from Detroit was the impetus for the Blackburn Riot.

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 (the familiar mechanical and now often electronic device that calculates the fare in most taxicabs) ushered in the modern taxi. The first modern meter-equipped taxicab was the Daimler Victoria, built by Gottlieb Daimler in 1897. The first modern taxi company was opened by Friedrich Greiner and began operating in Stuttgart the same year.

Gasoline-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 Harry N. Allen. Allen was the first person to paint his taxicabs yellow, after learning that yellow is the colour 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 callboxes. The next major innovation occurred in the 1980s, when computer assisted dispatching was first 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 were additionally required to meet stringent specifications (Metropolitan Conditions of Fitness – MCF), adopted in entirety by a number of other large UK cities (including Glasgow and Edinburgh), for example, as concerns turn radius, which resulted for a time in having only one make legally usable. 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.

The iconic checker pictured above was the common and favorable cab style. Although Checker cabs did not always look like this. They had many models, such as these (Photo credit: Joe Fay)

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. This form of engine is now the norm in Europe due to its superior fuel economy, torque and reliability.

Alot of the old taxi’s are being restored. People buy and restore them because they are not the average hot rod or muscle car. Bring an old taxi to a car show and you will draw a crowd.

There has been many makes, models, shapes and sizes of taxi’s. They typically yellow but not always.

And who knows what tomorrow’s taxi’s will look like. Maybe this?:

I wonder what yesterday’s concepts look like? Well they looked like these:

Though he was at one point described as a “famous industrial artist,” we’ve so far been able to discern little about Lynn Brodton outside of his patent filings, which chart a varied 20-year career in industrial design and included concepts that would have married the past and future of taxis.

In 1933, Brodton, a resident of Collingswood, New Jersey, first applied for a patent, on a multiband radio indicator. He eventually assigned that and another radio indicator patent to RCA, where he apparently worked for much of the 1930s as an industrial designer, achieving a level of significance enough to address RCA’s dealer body on at least a couple occasions. However, the first patent he was awarded was for an automobile design (above, D100,755, yes, it’s screaming for an Ace and Gary joke) in August 1936. Another design patent he applied for at about the same time, for a landau-type top (D107,902), shows similar design language, but the automobile design is noteworthy for its envelope styling and flush headlamps.

The landau-type top patent recalls similar tops used on Checker cabs at that time, and that’s where Brodton’s mind would eventually wander. Still living in Collingswood, Brodton produced a small series of flashlight designs in 1941, one of them assigned to the Flashlight Company of America in Jersey City, New Jersey, but then didn’t apply for another patent until after World War II. Presumably he took part in that conflict, though we’ve yet to turn up any records of him doing so.

In 1947, Brodton sent in applications for two very similar taxi designs on the same day. Both were awarded in 1949 and both show him now living in New York City, but they both also exhibit the flush headlamps and envelope styling of his 1936 automobile design (D153,851 and D154,742). What is interesting about them is that they both place the driver separate from and above the passengers, much like the Electrobats and other early taxis, but they also place the driver forward and center, under a protruding bubble, much like the 1941 Futurliners. Brodton wasn’t the only designer taking inspiration from the Futurliner and applying it to taxis: Dick H. Williams of Oak Park, Michigan, (whose other patents all were assigned to GM) applied for a similar design patent in October 1953.

The one thing Brodton’s first two taxis didn’t offer that the landau top provided was a a view for the passengers. Brodton must have gnawed on that issue for the next five years, until he came up with this design, which still placed the driver front, center and above the plane of the passengers, but also opened up the roof with a plexi bubble over the passenger section. Coincidentally (or not), Brodton applied for his patent a little more than a month after Ford introduced its line of 1954 cars, which included the Skyliner hardtop, with its plexi bubble inserted in the roof. Brodton, now living in Trenton, New Jersey, was assigned the patent later that year.

What will the concepts for the patrons of tomorrow look like?

So next time you are in a city, think about how you would design a taxi. What would it look like? Concepts are how designs are born. Maybe you have a multibillion idea. You’ll never know unless you create it.

Thanks for reading,

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Published in: on July 7, 2010 at 2:16 AM  Leave a Comment  
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