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Taxi: What's in a name?

Can the taxi industry reclaim its name or is it too late?

The word taxi is synonymous with the Hackney Carriage industry across the globe, but where did the name come from, and why should it be jealously guarded by the industry in an age where lines are blurred and muddied by numerous factors.

To begin with, the question should not be where does the name come from, but what is a taxi. 

A taxi, or taxicab to give the correct title, is a type of vehicle driven by an individual which is used to convey single or groups of people for hire and reward to a previously undetermined destination via an undetermined route.

The lack of a pre-determined destination and route means that a taxi differs significantly from other modes of public transport. Although there are different definitions of what a taxi is, with the word now becoming a generic entity rather than a specific in most parts of the globe, it is generally recognised that a taxi in its truest definition is a Hackney Carriage. The word "taxicab" was first used in London as early as 1907. Its etymology derives from an amalgam of the words "taximeter" and "cabriolet". However, we do have to look to the German, Greek, Latin and French dictionary along with a number of different words to discover its true identity. The word Taximeter is itself an adaptation of the German word taxameter, which in turn is a variant of the German word "Taxanom". "Taxe" is a shortened version of taxanom meaning tax or charge, however, the Latin word "taxa" also means tax or charge. Ultimately the word "taxi" may actually have its roots in the Ancient Greek language via the word "taxidi" meaning "journey". The derivative of the word "meter" is a slightly easier nut to crack, with its origins taken from the Greek word "metron" meaning "measure". Finally we have the word "cabriolet", which is a type of horse-drawn carriage, derived from the French word "cabrioler" meaning "leap". This in turn comes from the Italian word "capriolare", meaning "to jump", ultimately deriving from the Latin word "capreolus". The first documented public hackney carriage service was undertaken in London in 1605. By 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 was passed by Parliament to legalise horse-drawn carriages for hire. Further legislation to regulate hackney-coachmen in London was approved by Parliament in 1654. The first hackney-carriage licences were issued in 1662. In an effort to navigate the gridlocked streets of London which ensued in the nineteenth century (yes, they had traffic jams back then), Joseph Hansom, an architect from York designed a two-wheeled vehicle which was maneouverable enough to negotiate London's roads safely and much quicker than the four-wheeled hackney carriages. This vehicle was first seen in 1834 and subsequently replaced its much larger, more cumbersome counterpart. At the end of the 19th century Walter C. Bersey developed and marketed the first electric cab, which made its debut on London's streets in 1897. Due to its low pitched hum or whine it earned the nickname "The Hummingbird". Over the decades taxis around the globe have evolved and developed via the use of both petrol and diesel engined vehicles and latterly hybrids as well as LPG, before going almost full circle and reverting back to electric powered drive-trains. Taxis can be hailed or flagged down on the side of the road, or form a rank at designated taxi stands, unlike a private hire vehicle which can only be procured via a pre-booking system. The word taxi, although used generically in the UK, is very specific in London. No private hire or minicab company within the metropolitan area of London is permitted to use the word to describe their service. Its use can potentially lead to a person or operators licence being brought into question. Outside of London the lines have become blurred, in part due to the lack of legislation governing the name "taxi". There is no trademark in relation to the name, despite the specific differences between the taxi and private hire industry. As a result, the taxi industry have seen the name exploited with impunity by the private hire industry to such an extent that it has now become common vernacular to call a private hire vehicle a "taxi" by the general public, in much the same way the name Hoover has become synonymous with the vacuum cleaner. As a result of this, the taxi industry in London is slowly seeing the public and media organisations adopting the word to describe private hire vehicles, with the taxi industry seemingly having no way of addressing the issue. So despite the fact that there are clear differences between the two industries it could be argued that the name "taxi" may eventually be lost to its rightful owner, primarily due to the perception of parties outside of both the taxi and private hire industry rather than by definition.

Image Source: Pixabay

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