The taxi trade is the oldest regulated public transport system in the world. Its roots lie in the 17th century when Charles I made a proclamation to enable 50 hackney carriages to work in London.
In 1891, Wilhelm Bruhn invented a device that measured the distance travelled and the time taken to complete a journey allowing an accurate fare to be charged. This was known as a taximeter, and it is from this that the term 'taxi' comes.
Hackney carriages were horse-drawn vehicles. At the start of the 20th century, there were only a few motorised vehicles on the roads, but change came quickly in the first two decades of the century. By 1920, motorised taxis were a common sight on London's streets.
The First and Second World Wars had a dramatic effect on the taxi trade because many of the drivers were called up to fight. Women could not readily take over their jobs because they had no time to gain the geographical knowledge of the streets of London. Production of cabs ceased for the duration of the wars because resources were transferred to military and essential vehicles. When manufacturing began again, cabs were expensive to buy.
In the 20th century, applicants had (and still have) to meet strict conditions before they could become London taxi drivers. Drivers must be over 21 and have a thorough knowledge of London. They must know all the 25,000 streets within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross station: this is 'the knowledge'.
Drivers must study for two or three years and then pass an examination to prove that they know the area well. Sir Richard Mayne introduced this assessment in 1851 after customers complained that drivers did not know where they were going. Taxi drivers also have to have a good knowledge of places of interest and important landmarks.
Although London's taxis are traditionally painted black (hence their nickname 'black cabs'), they do not have to be black and often display colourful adverts on their bodywork. One company, London Taxis International, generally produces London's taxis, and the Austin TX4 is the best-known model.
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