Remembering a time before Uber & taxi apps
Toronto’s cab industry may be changing, but its incredible history will remain
When asked about the supposed improprieties of Uber — the company that has muscled its way into the Toronto taxi market by using technology and ride sharing in a creative new way — John Tory started by saying simply, “Uber is here to stay.”
The first taxis to roam the streets looking to assist weary pedestrians were horse-drawn hackney carriage services that operated in London and Paris as far back as the 17th century, followed by hansom cabs.
The first gasoline-powered taxi operated in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1897.
The history of the humble taxicab in the city of Toronto stretches back to the middle of the 19th century and a former slave named Thornton Blackburn, who fled the United States and after a dramatic journey settled in Canada, eventually coming to Toronto in 1834 with his wife.
He worked as a waiter at Osgoode Hall and noticed a need for a taxi service. Although reportedly illiterate, Blackburn commissioned the construction of a cab that would be able to carry four passengers. He began operation of a single horsedrawn cab and dubbed it “the City.” Soon, others followed his lead, and the taxi industry was underway in Toronto.
In 1999, the Blackburns were designated as Persons of National Historic Significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
Currently, there are 4,849 taxicabs in Toronto and an estimated 65,000 taxicab trips made every day in the city. The average time to wait for a cab is nine minutes. There have been some unique folks behind the wheels over the years who have gone to very unique and creative lengths to make their taxis stand out. There is one dubbed Cosmic Cab or, alternately, the Bollywood Mobile. The very colourful cab is done up in a Bollywood style. It’s truly one of a kind, and it’s still on the road, driven by Akberali Batada.
Then of course there is Cash Cab, a Canadian TV game show hosted by Adam Growe where unsuspecting passengers would be picked up in a taxi fitted with eight cameras and enter into the game.
Taxicabs have been part of the city for more than 180 years. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Early Toronto taxi company circa 1911
L-R: A cab on Ossington Avenue in the ’50s, Co-op Cabs, Checker taxi station