When is a taxi not a taxi.....when it's a private hire vehicle. For many years the name taxi has been synonymous with a particular style of vehicle (depending on region or country), however over the last few years it has been hijacked, not necessarily by the private hire industry per-sè, but by the media. Various forms of media have either intentionally or unintentionally classified private hire vehicles as taxis, as a result the name has become almost homogenised and is now routinely linked to the private hire industry.
The first thing to remember is that the word taxi is supposed to be exclusively used by the taxi industry when advertising, thus the private hire industry is excluded from its use. This however doesn't extend to the media themselves when reporting varying incidents, thus we have a serious issue that has developed regarding our name, we as a result are being either dragged down to private hire level in name only or the private hire industry are being elevated upon the taxi industry's back. So what is in a name? To further understand we have to look at both the etymology and the history of the word taxi.
A taxicab, is also known as a taxi or a cab, it is a vehicle that is available for hire with a driver, used by a single passenger or small group of passengers. A taxicab conveys passengers between locations of their choice. Taxicabs are also known as Hackney Carriages and are hailed on the street, via a dispatch system or via an e-hailing system known as an app, all taxis are equipped with a meter and a for-hire light or an illuminated TAXI sign. This differs significantly from Private hire vehicles, also known as minicabs. These vehicles cannot be street-hailed nor form a rank, they are licensed for pre-booking only. A grey area has emerged over the last 5 years with the proliferation of e-hailing apps which has created a major dispute in what is deemed as "plying for hire". Private hire vehicles (in the UK) can neither carry a meter nor any form of "for-hire" sign.
The word "taxicab" was in use in London as early as 1907. "Taxicab" is a bastardisation of 2 words formed from contractions of the words "taximeter" and "cabriolet". "Taximeter" is an adaptation of the German word Taxameter, which was itself a variant of the earlier German word, "Taxanom." "Taxe" is a German word meaning "tax," or "charge." The Latin word, "taxa," also means Tax or Charge. Meter is derived from the Greek word metron meaning measure. A "cabriolet" is a type of horse-drawn carriage, from the French word "cabrioler."
The first taxis to be equipped with meters operated in Paris, the meter went into operation on March 9, 1898. They were originally called taxamètres, then renamed taximètres on October 17, 1904.
Horse-drawn Hackney Carriage services began operating in London in the early 17th century. The first documented public hackney coach service for hire was in London in 1605. In 1625 carriages were made available for hire from innkeepers in London and the first taxi rank appeared on The Strand outside the Maypole Inn in 1636. In 1635 the Hackney Carriage Act recieved was passed by Parliament to legalise horse-drawn carriages for hire. A further "Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney-Coachmen in London and the places adjacent" was approved by Parliament in 1654 and the first hackney-carriage licences were issued in 1662.
The hansom cab was designed by Joseph Hansom, an architecht from York in 1834. It was developed as an improvement on the highly unstable hackney carriage. Hansom cabs where two-wheeled vehicles pulled by a single horse. They were fast, light and had a low centre of gravity making them extremely agile. The hansom cab soon replaced the hackney carriage as the vehicle of choice for drivers.
Battery-powered (electric) taxis became available at the end of the 19th century. In London, Walter C. Bersey designed a fleet of such cabs and introduced them to the streets of London on 19 August 1897.
The modern taximeter was invented by three German inventors; Wilhelm Friedrich Nedler, Ferdinand Dencker and Friedrich Willhelm Gustav Bruhn. The Daimler Victoria was the world's first gas-powered taximeter-cab, this was built by Gottlieb Daimler in 1897 and began operating in London in 1903. The first major technological development after the invention of the taximeter was in the late 1940s, when two-way radios first appeared in taxicabs. Radios enabled taxicabs and dispatch offices to communicate and serve customers as well as the traditional hailing system. The next major technological development occurred in the 1980s, when computer dispatch was first introduced. Taxis are permitted to be "hailed" or "flagged" on the street unlike private hire vehicles. Taxis are also allowed to rank at official taxi ranks or stands, again unlike private hire vehicles where this is illegal.
Passengers can also use radio circuits for taxis although this is diminishing somewhat due to the proliferation of phone apps. Private hire vehicles can only be hired from a dispatch office, and must be assigned each fare by the office by radio or phone. Picking up passengers off the street in these areas can lead to suspension or revocation of the driver's private hire license, or even prosecution. The major grey area at the moment is e-hailing which is an instant hailing method via a mobile phone app. This has created a circumvention to current private hire legislation which in effect allows them to "ply for hire." Which in itself is illegal and subject to major discussion.
In London, the complex and chaotic road layout, is mastered by taxi drivers by undertaking The Knowledge, a series of exams that can take in excess of three and a half years to pass. Private hire vehicle drivers do not undertake this exam instead generally rely on sat-nav systems (which are highly fallible and inaccurate. Such aids are sometimes used as an aide-memoir and a modern day replacement to an A to Z. The Knowledge equips taxi drivers with a command of 25,000 streets within central London, major routes outside this area, and all buildings and other destinations to within a 12 mile radius of Charing Cross. The word Taxi is very specific, it is not and never has been a private hire vehicle in the same way that an advertorial pamphlet cannot be called a newspaper....yes they have words on a printed sheet but thats where the similarity ends.....or a vet being called a doctor. Both operate and make diagnosis a living entity but those entities are very different, one is animal, one is human.
So what is in a name? Well in the taxi industry's case it is an identity, a way of life, a specific vehicle. It is a name that must not be hijacked to serve a third parties given agenda.