Counting the cost

In 1891 Wilhelm Bruhn invented the taximeter, this at a stroke gave the vehicle its now common appellation, and made travelling by taxi, whether as a passenger or driver, a lot less stressful.

Anyone who has taken a taxi without a meter knows the scenario, either you negotiate the fare before starting the journey or argue the cost when arriving at the destination.

I’ve experienced the agreed fare doubling during a journey in Egypt, or whilst in Capri, the meter adorning the dashboard without being activated.
Seventy years before Herr Bruhn brought his clever device to London’s streets Mr Quaife solved the problem by producing a list of fares in a handy book.

According to Sean Farrell in his extensive cabbie history: Abstracts of Black Cab Lore

By 1828 there were reported to be six men and one woman, all having the name Quaife, working at the Hackney Coach Office…at least James [Quaife] was industrious. In 1821 he published, under the authority of the Hackney Coach Commissioners, The Hackney Coach Directory, which he claimed had 18,000 distinct fares.

The book’s compilation was made easier than it would be today, as cabs could only pick up at the 84 designated ranks, so all calculations start from these places.

Later the 1853 Hackney Carriages Act stipulated that every driver was to carry a book of fares which had to be produced when asked for by the passenger.

So how do the Georgian prices stand up to today’s metered fares?

I’ve used the RPI cumulative inflation rate taken from measuringworth.com at 5/- (25p) equalling £21.79. The website’s labour conversation value, showing how far one’s wages’ buying power went at the time, gives a rather different £223.20 conversation of five shillings at today’s prices.

Obviously, I haven’t driven these distances with the meter running and with the cab devoid of passengers. Instead, I’ve lazily used the taxi-calculator.com website and based it on tariff 1 (daytime) rates.

1821 Berkeley Street to Penton Street (site of the old Public Carriage Office) 3s 6d (£15.25)
2021 Black Cab £12.50

1821 Aldgate to Jack Straws Castle 8s 0d (£34.86)
2021 Black Cab £27.60

1821 Bridge Street, Blackfriars to Shoreditch Workhouse, Kingsland Road 3s 0d (£13.07)
2021 Black Cab £13.10



So there you have it, today’s fares are not much different than 200 years ago.

4 thoughts on “Counting the cost”

  1. It still seems to me that those early taxi trips were only for the relatively well-off. The disposable income of the working classes has changed significantly from the Georgian era.
    I had to argue with a horse-taxi driver in Luxor, Egypt. He tried to treble the agreed £1 fare, telling me the rest was for his horse. I would have given him a good tip, but ended up throwing his £1 equivalent onto the seat next to him, and walking away.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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