Re­mem­ber­ing a time be­fore Uber & taxi apps

Toronto’s cab in­dus­try may be chang­ing, but its in­cred­i­ble his­tory will re­main

Thornhill Post - - Looking Back -

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

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