Just as the Black Cab is synonymous with London and the Yellow Cab with New York, cities around the world each boast their own unique livery and tradition when it comes to their taxi cabs. As any traveller would agree, catching a cab in a new city is more than just a convenient way to get around. It’s a window into the culture of the place being visited. Fresh from the airport or train station, a taxi cab provides an immediate visual cue that we are somewhere else, an impression that is only reinforced when we take our first ride.
Whether it’s the regimented queues outside Tokyo Station, a late-night sojourn through Shoreditch or the chaos of a Bangkok Tuk-Tuk, taxis convey the flavor of a city and its people as much as its food and architecture. Yet the measure of a taxi service is not only style and comfort, but convenience. In this era of Uber, Lyft and other disruptors, how do traditional taxis compete? The answer is with the same commitment to service they have always had, coupled with new innovations to meet the expectations of a modern, connected clientele.
So, what are some of the world’s most recognizable and iconic taxi cabs, and how do you go about catching a ride in them these days?
London can boast one of the oldest love affairs with taxis in the world. The era of the taxi in this city traces as far back as 1605 when the Hackney Coach Service first began operating, and from which we derive the term Hackney Cab. Thirty years later, the first taxi rank appeared in the Strand outside of the Maypole Inn. Soon after, hackney carriages were regularly ferrying people around Hackney, Shoreditch and beyond.
In more recent times, nothing has said London more than the ubiquitous Black Cab. A staple of cinema and popular culture, and a mainstay of transport for the city’s inhabitants, the famous vehicles have been a common sight on the city’s thoroughfares for 60 years. Over 75000 of the Austin FX4 model were produced between 1958 and 1997, with many being exported, before the LTI TX1 and later variants won cabbies approval as a suitable replacement.
Hailing and catching a cab in the City has thankfully progressed beyond locating a suitable inn. After a period of intense competition from Uber and other ride-sharing companies, a plethora of taxi booking and tracking apps are now available to choose from. With the burgeoning, vibrant tech scene in Shoreditch, there are sure to be more in the future. Indeed, if you would like to take a spin around Shoreditch’s silicon roundabout and are looking for a Black Cab to take you there, Gett and MyTaxi will allow you to quickly and easily book a ride with your smartphone. TaxiApp, whose founders are all Black Cab drivers hailing from Hackney, is another alternative. In late 2016 Hailo was absorbed by MyTaxi.
New York City
Drivers in the Big Apple are famously aggressive. Given the challenges of navigating the city’s skyscraper canyons, is it any wonder that many drivers opt to leave it to the professionals? Manhattan’s Yellow, or Medallion, cabs outnumber private vehicles and have been around since 1907. Like the Black Cab, NYC long had a fondness for tradition when it came to the look and design of its taxi cabs. From the 1950s to the 1980s the celebrated Checker cab was a common sight, and even after ceasing production in 1982, continued to ply its trade for many years. After the Checker cab, the Ford Crown Victoria and Chevrolet Caprice took up the mantle, but one thing that has never changed for Medallion cabs is the signature yellow.
Apart from the long-standing tradition of hailing a cab by hand or catching one from a taxi stand, there are several popular mobile apps to book and track rides. Cabsense will show users where a taxi can be found at any given moment using location tracking. Hailo allowed users to hail and pay for a taxi using only their smartphone. GetTaxi also lets passengers bring a cab to their location and pay for the ride in one transaction.
Like all things in Dubai, taxis are more a statement of extravagance than a no-frills method of getting around. With its “Supercar Taxis” including models like Ferrari and Lamborghini, passengers are assured of a unique experience as they weave between glittering high-rises in air-conditioned comfort. Dubai’s most celebrated hotel, the towering Burj Al Arab, conducts airport transfers via a fleet of chauffeur-driven white Rolls Royce Phantoms. If this experience is not surreal enough, consider plans by Rolls Royce for a flying taxi based on drone technology. Given the propensity of investors in Dubai to throw serious cash at big ideas, it might just get off the ground.
For now, one high-tech option for catching a cab is the Careem app which allows passengers to order and track the arrival of their vehicle in real time. Based in Dubai, there are over 1 million “Careem Captains” in the Middle-East, Africa and Asia.
With over 40000 cabs, Buenos Aires’ black and yellow cabs are never far away for a passenger in need of a ride. For much of the 1980’s, the standard taxi cab in Argentina’s capital was the Peugeot 504, a model that still persists in the popular imagination. These days, it’s estimated that there is one cab in Buenos Aires for every 80 people, so it could be argued that city’s inhabitants are some of the best served in the world when it comes to accessibility.
Uber is frowned upon here, and the city government has developed a rival app called BA Taxi to encourage customers to stick with tradition. BA Taxi allows commuters to book, track their ride, pay with card or cash, and even report missing items.
Although they were officially retired in 2012, the green and white exterior and classic contours of Mexico City’s Volkswagen Beetles can still be found on the road in significant numbers. Indeed, long after the Love Bug had disappeared from the streets of most other cities, Mexico remained the last redoubt of Volkswagen Beetle production. These iconic vehicles were produced from 1962 until 2003. For a car first designed in 1934, that’s not a bad run.
While scoring a ride in a Beetle these days may be hit or miss, those seeking a cab ride in Mexico’s sprawling metropolis will have a new option in 2019. The Beat app, formerly known as TaxiBeat, is launching here. Based in Athens but focused on the Latin American market, Beat allows customers to order and track a ride 24/7.
If you need to hail a taxi in Bangkok, they are hard to miss. Cabs here follow one rule – there is no rule when it comes to colours. Be prepared to see cabs in a range of brash hues including red-and-yellow, green-and-blue, bright orange and cheerful pink. If the thought of taking a ride in a bright pink sedan isn’t quirky enough for you, consider hopping instead aboard one of Bangkok’s famous Tuk-Tuks. A motorized rickshaw, these 3-wheeled vehicles are sure to add some thrills to your journey.
Bangkok is now an Uber free zone, so to book a taxi here you will need to use Grab, AllThaiTaxi, or LineTaxi, which is an offshoot of the popular chat app.
The challenge for the venerable taxi is to continue to move with the times yet retain the style and tradition passengers so value. With the wealth of new ways to engage with their services, it’s safe to say they won’t be going away anytime soon.
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