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  1. A type of vehicle for hire: see below.
  2. A type of geometry: see taxicab geometry.

A taxicab (sometimes called taxi, cab, or hack) is a vehicle for hire which conveys passengers between locations of their choice. (In most other modes of public transport, the pick-up and drop-off locations are determined by the service provider, not by the passenger.) Although types of vehicles and methods of regulation, hiring, dispatching, and negotiating payment differ significantly from country to country, some common characteristics exist.

A London black cab

Table of contents
1 History and etymology
2 Vehicles
3 Livery
4 Regulation
5 Hiring
6 Dispatching
7 Fares
8 Taxis around the World
9 See also

History and etymology

Horse-drawn for-hire hackney carriage service began operating in both Paris and London in the early 17th century. Royal proclamations in both cities regulated the number of carriages--the first example of taxicab regulation. 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 taxis) ushered in the modern taxi. (The "taxi" in "taximeter" is related to the word "tax," or "rate.") The first modern, gas-powered, meter-equipped taxi was the Daimler Victoria, built by Gottfried Daimler in 1897; the first motorized taxi company began operating in Stuttgart the same year.

Gas-powered, meter-equipped taxis began operating in Paris in 1899, in London in 1903, and in New York in 1907. The New York taxis were imported from France by businessperson Harry N. Allen, who adapted the French word taxi-mètre and coined the word "taxicab" to describe the vehicles he was imported. In time, the shortened term "taxi" came into common usage. (Allen was also the first person to paint his taxis yellow, after learning that yellow is the colour most easily seen from a distance.)

Taxis 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 radioss first appeared in taxicabs. Radios enabled taxis 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.

(Sources: BBC America: Ask a Cabby; The New York City Taxicab Fact Book (2003), p. 22; Today in Science History).


Taxi service is typically provided by automobiles, but various human- and animal-powered vehicles or boats are also used or were used historically. In northern Europe it is not uncommon for expensive cars such as the Mercedes-Benz to be the taxi of choice. Taxis in less developed places can be a completely different experience, such as the ancient French cars typically found in Cairo. Taxis differ in other ways as well: London's black cabs have large compartment beside the driver for storing bags, while many fleets of regular taxis also include wheelchair accessible taxis among their numbers. Although taxis have traditionally been sedans, minivan and even SVU taxis are becoming increasingly common. In many cities, limousines operate as well, usually in competition with taxis and at higher fares.


Originally, hackney carriage companies were distinguished from each other by their drivers' livery (uniforms) and by the colours of their carriages. For example, at the end of the
19th century in Paris, Compagnie Generale carriages were painted blue, while those of Abeille were painted green ("The Paris Cabman"). Around the world today, taxi companies are still distinguished by the way their cars are painted. In North America, many older taxi companies are named according to their paint schemes. Thus, "Yellow Cabs" are painted yellow, Checker Cabs have a distinctive black-and-white or black-and-yellow checkerboard stripe around their bodies, "Blue and White Cabs" might have blue bodies and white roofs, and "Black Top" and "Red Top Cabs" have black and red roofs respectively.


Both taxis and drivers are regulated to greatly varying degrees in different places, from free-for-all to highly restrictive licensing schemes. In many countries, the number of taxis and the areas where they may operate are strictly controlled by a regulatory body. (Paradoxically, taxis are often most heavily regulated in wealthy,
laissez-faire economies--as examplified by the strict systems in London and New York, which are discussed below.) In such systems, a person must purchase a license or medallion if he or she wishes to own a taxi. In many jurisdictions, both owners and non-owning drivers of taxis are also tested and licensed by the police or the regulatory body.


Taxis are often "hailed" or "flagged" on the street, either by a passenger as a taxi is driving by, or at a taxi stand (sometimes also called a "taxi rank", "cab stand," or "hack stand"). Taxi stands are usually located at airports, railway stations, and hotels, as well as at other places where large numbers of passengers are likely to be found. In some places--Japan, for example--taxi stands are arranged according to the size of the taxis, so that large- and small-capacity cabs line up separately. Passengers also commonly call a central dispatch office for taxis.


The activity of taxi fleets is usually monitored and controlled by a central office, which provides dispatching, accounting, and human resources services to one or more taxi companies. Taxi owners and drivers usually communicate with the dispatch office through either a 2-way radio or a computer terminal (called a mobile data terminal). Before the innovation of radio dispatch in the 1950s, taxi drivers would use a callbox--a special telephone at a taxi stand--to contact the dispatch office. When a customer calls for a taxi, a trip is dispatched by either radio or computer to the most suitable cab. The most suitable cab may either be the one closest to the pick-up address (often determined by GPS coordinates nowadays) or the one that was the first to book in to the "zone" surrounding the pickup address. In offices using radio dispatch, taxi locations are often tracked using magnetic "pegs" on a "board"--a metal sheet with an engraved map of taxi zones. In computerized dispatch, the status of taxis is tracked by the computer system.


For the distance travelled, fares for taxis are usually higher than for other forms of transport (buses or trains). The fare often does not depend on the number of people travelling together in a taxi. Sometimes there is a system where strangers share a taxi and fares are per person. Fares are usually calculated according to a combination of distance and waiting time, and are measured by a meter, originally called a taximeter and the origin of the word "taxi." Instead of a metered fare, passengers sometimes pay a flat fare. In some countries, when demand is high--for instance, late at night--a taxi will pick up whoever offers the highest fare.

Taxis around the World


The first horse-drawn forerunners of taxis appeared on Parisian streets in 1637. France was one of the first countries to use modern taxis--that is, gasoline-powered vehicles with fare meters. New York's first taxis were imported from France in 1907, and taxis were famously used for troop transportation during the
First Battle of the Marne.


Horse-drawn hackney carriages began providing taxi service in the early 17th century. In 1636, the number of carriages was set at 50--an early example of taxicab regulation. In the same year, the owner of 4 hackney carriages established the first taxi stand in the Strand. In the early 19th century, cabriolets ("cabs" for short) replaced the heavier and more cumbersome hackney carriages. Battery-operated taxis appeared briefly at the end of the 19th century, but modern taxi service took off with the appearance of gas-powered, metered taxis in the early 1900s. Today, taxi service in London is provided by the famous black cabs (depicted in the photo above) and by quasi-legal minicabs. Only black cabs can pick up flag trips on the street, and both black cabs and minicabs are also radio- or computer-dispatched. Black cabs--also known as hackney carriages, or hackney cabs--are particularly famous on account of the specially constructed vehicles and the extensive training course ("the Knowledge") required for fully licensed drivers. London's cab drivers are even well-known for having developed an especially big hippocampus, a region of the brain where, among other things, information about locations is stored (this is likely the case with many other taxi drivers, as well--not just those of London). (Sources: The History of the Black Taxi; and others.)

New York

In New York, radio dispatching was introduced to that city's famous fleet of yellow taxis in the 1960s. After complaints from customers who would be passed up on the street by taxis on the way to pick up dispatched trips, a new regulation was introduced requiring radio-equipped taxis to not be painted yellow. The city's taxi system is now divided into "medallion taxis"--the familiar, meter-equipped yellow taxis visible in photographs, films, and television programs, and which are allowed to pick up flagging passengers on the street--and "for-hire vehicles"--including "car services" (conventional taxis) and "black cars" (luxury vehicles)--which provide radio- or computer-dispatched service to calling customers. For-hire vehicles do not have taxi meters, but instead charge fares based on zones, travelling time, or mileage. (Sources:
The New York City Taxicab Fact Book (2003), p. 24-26; NYC Taxi & Livery Fact Book Definitions).

See also