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BEING A BORN-AGAIN CALIFORNIAN, I hardly ever ride in a taxicab. However, I have enjoyed sharing tidbits about them here at SimanaitisSays and recently came upon another interesting facet: Namely, the fate of cab-fare maps, as described in a book devoted to such obsolete objects.
Paul Dobraszczyk writes in Extinct, “It’s easy to forget that taxicabs were horse-drawn longer than they have been motorized ones, and that passengers relied for a long time on printed information to work out their fares.”
Earliest Regulation. Dobraszczyk observes, “The earliest vehicles for hire in London were the hackney coaches, established in the early seventeenth century and overseen from 1694 by the Hackney Coach Commissioners, who regulated prices according to both distance and time. Printed information for passengers began to appear in the early eighteenth century, initially as lists of fares and coach regulations included in engraved city maps, and later as books of fares in their own right that were later required by law to be carried in all cabs.”
Great Exhibition Ripoffs. “The Metropolitan Police,” Dobraszczyk writes, “began regulating fares after 1853, mainly as a consequence of the widespread extortion of visitors by cabmen during the Great Exhibition of 1851.”
Celebrating Mother Prodgers. Dobraszczyk tells the charming tale of a particular passenger, “with the Dickensian title of Mrs Caroline Giacometti Prodgers,” who dominated the police reports in the early 1870s.
Mrs Prodgers would test the honesty of cabmen by riding an exact mile and then asking the fare. “After a time,” Dobraszczyk says, “she became so dreaded that the warning cry of ‘Mother Prodgers’ would send every cabman within hail dashing up side streets to escape.”
Invention of the Taximeter. The invention of the “taximeter” by Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav Bruhn in Germany in 1891, first used in a motorized cab in 1897, signalled the demise of cab-fare maps.
Dobraszczyk recounts, “By 1914 all new motorized cabs—and by then these already outnumbered horse-drawn ones—were required to carry an automated taximeter.”
Likely pronounced “tax-IM-e-ter,” (like “tach-OM-e-ter), the gizmo eventually gave rise to our word “taxi” describing a cab so equipped.
Nav Cabs. “Today,” Dobraszczyk says, “taximeters in cabs are invariably coupled with computerized satnav systems, the latter being the present-day equivalent of the printed maps of the Victorian period, albeit without their variety and visual appeal.” What’s more, smartphone apps have all but eliminated the need for passengers asking “What’s the fare?”
“The Knowledge.” Despite all this high tech, London cab drivers still have the initiation rite of acquiring “The Knowledge,” of memorizing this city’s streets, businesses, and landmarks within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross.
Typically, study for The Knowledge involves three years of logging more than 50,000 miles on motorbike and on foot.
And, appealing to tradition, I like to think there are still modern Mother Prodgers who probe “The Knowledge” as well as GPS and taximeters, however pronounced. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022
As always, fascinating findings, Dennis.
Before opening your post, I just happened to see a 1955 Ford-Hackney (Good Humor) Ice Cream truck for sale on Hemmings. Currently garaged in Texas, I think, it bears New York License plates. All of which raised for me an interesting question. In my college days, while going to Georgetown University in Washington DC, I drove Good Humor Ice Cream trucks in Brooklyn, NY, each night swapping my ice cream inventory from one truck to another as I had the privilege of filling in for the most senior drivers on their days off. The trucks were made by Hackney of North Carolina if I remember that detail correctly. And in your article, you reference the Hackney Coach Commissioners in London circa 1694 (certainly before our time!) The HCC operated in the London Borough of Hackney (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Borough_of_Hackney.) But is there anything to be learned about any possible links between the truck body company in North Carolina (https://hackneyusa.com/company/about/) and the Coach Commission in London more than 300 years ago?
I debated providing a link to the ice cream truck I mentioned in my most recent reply to this piece. Here’s the link: https://www.hemmings.com/classifieds/cars-for-sale/ford/f250/2613114.html?utm_medium=email&utm_source=EDaily&utm_campaign=#&gid=1&pid=5 I don’t know if you frown on that type of link in the reply stream so I decided to send it to you separately.
Legit links such as this are always welcome.
C’mon Den! With all your journo trips, you didn’t take advantage of LA’s blue Super Shuttles, an excellent cab alternative. When living in Redondo, I got to know many drivers by name.
I also spent a quarter century in America’s last colony, the District of Columbia, still largely ruled by and for the benefit of Congress and their staffers. Congress micromanaged District affairs, and gerrymandered the cab fare zones to their gain. While regular residents found many short trips crossing multiple zones and jumping the fares each time, somehow the zone around the Capitol, legislative buildings, K street where the lobbyists denned, and the preferred residential areas of Georgetown and outer Wisconsin Ave was amazingly large with a minimum fare.
You know, Bob, I never considered the shared Airport shuttles as “taxis.”
Your D.C. story is a funny one.
In much of the world, and possibly in some US locales, it’s common for a taxi that’s not full to pick up other fares … especially on airport or train station runs in places like London and Japan. Much of the US seems to have a “cult of privacy” attitude.
When I first moved to the DC area in the ’60s, the highest locally elected official was president of the school board. Gradually, the District has been allowed to govern itself … but not always for the better.
With an app, you may always know the fare (unless it changes during your trip, which can happen), but Uber (especially) and Lyft, which have largely replaced traditional taxis, have a tendency to rip people off with “surge pricing” if anything popular is going on. Getting transportation for, for instance, a festival like Outside Lands in SF (or, really, anywhere in SF), can be financially crippling.
Ha. Where’s Mrs Prodgers when we need her?
Slightly off topic, but one more D.C transit anecdote, from Wm Manchester’s The Glory And The Dream: In 1932 Eisenhower was MacArthur’s aide, and doubled as the military’s congressional lobbyist. But when he went up to Capitol Hill, taxi fare wasn’t in the budget. He filled out an expense form each time and got two streetcar tokens for the round trip. He would stand on Pennsylvania Ave and wait for a Mt. Pleasant trolley. There were nearly 700 streetcars in service in D.C.
MacArthur had the Army’s only limousine but Ike couldn’t borrow it.
The last DC streetcars were taken out of service in the late ’60s, and many major boulevards had rails that were a motorist annoyance and a hazard for bicyclists. A lot of Georgetown and Alexandria, VA had been preserved with cobblestone streets through the ’90s at least.
The last owner was O. Roy Chalk, quite an interesting character.
His Georgetown car barn is prominently featured in The Exorcist film, and the steep stairs alongside his building are a memorable part as Max von Sydow climbed them amid a tense moment.
Bob, thanks. Having ridden streetcars a few times as a boy in ’50s Baltimore, I found this Wikipedia quote in the Chalk link of interest:
By Public Law 389, enacted by the United States Congress, Chalk was directed to replace all streetcar operations with buses, which was completed on January 28, 1962. Obviously too early for the “light rail” tag line. Comforting is it not that EV & charging station multi trillion project is goments next big thing.
Max Von Sydow? Hands down best of the 70s movies – 3 Days of the Condor with Redford and Faye Dunaway.
Interesting. Streetcars are back in DC, with a sort of light rail line in the Navy Yard area. DC did, however, go heavily into subways after the mid-1960s; if it had been maintained properly (the story of DC, right?), it could be a very effective way to get around. But if in town on business, it’s better to take a taxi from National despite there being a Metro stop at the airport; that fare zone fiddle works for trips between the airport and downtown/Georgetown, and schlepping luggage on any Metro (DC or elsewhere) does not make for a great trip.
I lived and/or had residences in the greater DC area, in VA, MD and DC, leaving in the early 90s. I saw the growth of the Metro, and the many good and bad decisions made … usually for petty/parochial reasons.
With effectively three state governments, at least 9 counties, and a mind numbing number of city/town authorities plus the Feds and Congress weighing in, it’s a miracle that anything got done. Maryland dithered about routing through established neighborhoods, while Virginia benefited from having wide Interstate 66 running into DC from the NW, giving their major population centers access via an established right of way.
Reagan National Airport suffered from the proximity of lucrative commercial properties and stubborn managers, and when I left, once you got off at the airport stop, you still had an awkward trek across busy traffic … horrible in inclement weather. I hope that’s been improved.
Toney Georgetown eschewed having a Metro line, wanting to preserve their quaint and curious lifestyle. Then they saw businesses growing and booming in neglected parts of town with subway access, and rued their stance.
There are lots of odd loops in the line that make sense to only a few, IMHO.