The first motorised taxicab service in the United States started in New York City

Friday 31st May 1907

The first motorised taxicab service in the United States started in New York City. Harry N. Allen, incensed after being charged five dollars ($126.98 in today’s dollars) for a journey of 0.75 miles (1.21 km), decided “to start a [taxicab] service in New York and charge so-much per mile.” He imported 65 gasoline-powered cars from France and began the New York Taxicab Company. The cabs were originally painted red and green, but Allen repainted them all yellow to be visible from a distance. By 1908 the company was running 700 taxicabs. Within a decade several more companies opened business and taxicabs began to proliferate. The fare was 50 cents a mile, a rate only affordable to the relatively wealthy. By the 1920s, automobile manufacturers like General Motors and the Ford Motor Company began operating fleets. The most successful manufacturer, however, was the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company. Founded by Morris Markin, Checker Cabs produced large yellow and black taxis that became the most common taxis in New York City. In 1937 Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia signed the Haas Act, which introduced official taxi licenses and the medallion system that remains in place today. The law limited the number of licenses to 16,900. The medallions are now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with fleet medallions topping $600,000 in 2007. In 1967, New York City ordered all “medallion taxis” be painted yellow to help cut down on unofficial drivers and make official taxicabs more readily recognisable. By the mid-1980s and into the 1990s the demographic changes among cabbies began to accelerate as new waves of immigrants arrived in New York. According to the 2000 US Census, of the 62,000 cabbies in New York 82 per cent are foreign born: 23 per cent are from the Caribbean (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), and 30 per cent from South Asia, and Pakistan. In 1996, when Chevrolet stopped making the Caprice, the Ford Crown Victoria became the most widely used sedan for yellow cabs in New York. In addition, yellow cab operators also use the Honda Odyssey, Isuzu Oasis, Chevrolet Venture, Ford Freestar, and Toyota Sienna minivans which offer increased passenger room. The distinctive Checker cabs were, due to their durable construction, phased out slowly, the last one being retired in July 1999, being over 20 years in service and nearly one million miles on its odometer. Laws since 1996 require taxis be replaced every 6 years regardless of condition. In 2005, New York introduced incentives to replace its current yellow cabs with electric hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape Hybrid. As of February 2011, New York City had around 4,300 hybrid taxis, representing almost 33 per cent of New York’s 13,237 taxis in service, the most in any city in North America. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced the Nissan design as the winner to replace the city’s 13,000 yellow cabs, to be phased in over five years starting in 2013.

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