The basic principle of the taxi is to move an individual or group of individuals, along with their associated luggage, from point A to point B. There is no specific restraint on the numbers of people or items involved or the distance they travel. Nor is there any specific requirements for the form of transportation, except that it needs to, ideally, be capable of covering the distances involved, or at least a part, thereof.
For the sake of clarity this does not include other means of public transport, like buses, coaches, trains, etc. Taxis, while capable of carrying small groups, tend to be much more private and usually do not carry gatherings larger than four or five people1.
Point of Interest - the Root of the Word 'Taxi'
The term 'taxi' is derived from 'taximeter', the instrument used to determine the distance covered in a journey to ensure that an accurate fare is requested.
Types of Taxi
The primary difference between official taxis and privately operated taxis is the legal right for the former to ply their trade - to pick up passengers from anywhere without the necessity for prior arrangement, such as London Black Cabs. Privately operated taxis - like mini cabs - can only provide passage on a booking basis. The world over, virtually every state or county runs a system of registration that provides this level of authority, or licence, to a certain number of vehicles.
A taxi can normally be hired simply by waving one down from the edge of the street or by finding an organised taxi rank where taxis without customers will come to stop and await fresh business. For the average pedestrian neither option is a guarantee of transportation, but the latter is probably less dangerous and prone to roadside conflict. In many cities flagging a taxi down on the kerb means contending with several other people trying to do exactly the same thing. This can result in much pushing, shoving, shouting and individuals virtually throwing themselves out into the road.
On the other hand, taxi ranks present a supposedly controlled supply of taxis. However, in many countries being at the front of a queue doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be entitled to step into the first cab that comes along. Often it's a case of every man for himself and it may be simpler, and a lot less physically testing, to hire a cab by phone.
Official taxis also tend to cater for a much higher level of internal security to protect the driver - usually in the form of a clear, toughened plastic or wire mesh barrier. Passengers sit behind the barrier and the driver often has complete control of the rear locks so that travellers don't leave before the fare is paid. Payments are usually made through a small hole in the barrier or by way of a small drawer into which notes/coins are placed and pulled through to the driver's area for retrieval.
Minicab is a term used to describe both unlicensed illegal taxi touts and licensed Private Hire Vehicles (PHV) which provide a similar service to licensed taxis. Never use an unlicensed illegal taxi touts as apart from the obvious risks to personal safety there is also issues to do with lack of suitable insurance and poor maintenance which could put you at risk.
The rules and regulations relating to licensed Private Hire vary with each licensing authority (normally the local council2). As rule of thumb Private Hire Vehicles will be ordinary cars that can carry nine people or less 3 and which must be pre-booked before the start of the journey although there are local exceptions to this. In some parts of the UK Private Hire Vehicles will have to have specific paint schemes or use accessible vehicles and again in some parts of the UK they will be metered in others unmetered, either way get an estimate when ordering your Private Hire Vehicles. In some parts (but not all) of the UK drivers of Private Hire Vehicles will have to undergo a local knowledge test but wherever you are it should be expected that the licensing authority has carried out background checks on your licensed driver and regularly inspects licensed Private Hire Vehicles.
The last place in England and Wales to get licensed Private Hire Vehicles was London and as of April 2005 all Private Hire Vehicles in England and Wales should be licensed.
Effectively a minicab company using much newer and far classier vehicles to complete the same task as any other taxi. Celebrities, politicians and significant business people commonly use limousines. They are generally hired for a specific period of time with a specific fee negotiated for this period. They may be used to simply travel between two locations or employed to travel around multiple points based on the wishes of the passenger or the requirements of their itinerary.
A variant upon the standard types of taxi, airport transportation exists both as hire and self-hire options. Taxis of this type are usually larger vehicles, like people carriers - vehicles that combine the characteristics of a car and a small bus with room for half-a-dozen passengers and a fair quantity of luggage. They travel between the home location of the passenger and a specified airport, and can, if the charge is reasonable, represent a cheaper option than using airport parking.
A common form of taxi for anyone with a family car. Naturally this kind of transportation is not licensed and doesn't involve the payment of a fare, although considerable begging and pleading may be in order. Parental lifts are occasionally organised, but more than likely they are requested late at night from unusual locations under strange circumstances - for example:
Hi, Dad... yeah, my van broke down after hitting a cattle gate in the fog. We tried to hitch a lift to the train station, but apparently it's been closed since the Fever and we can't translate everything the locals are saying. Can you pick us up...?
When parents aren't around and driving lessons are still a distant dream, there is the option to turn to those friends and acquaintances that do have access to a car to give you a lift somewhere. Of course, they might be going to the same place already (refer to 'Car Sharing' below) but more often than not they aren't - so what you are after is a lift to somewhere close to your desired destination or, by cashing in a favour or through appropriate blackmail techniques, getting them to go completely out on a limb and taking you to the right place.
Essentially this is an environmentally friendly type of personal taxi service. Also known as 'car pooling'. Most often used to go to and from a place of work, many places around the world promote this mode of transport by building High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on roads that can only be used by public transport and cars with a certain number of passengers. These lanes are generally nearly empty, therefore providing a great way to avoid traffic congestion. However, for many people the concept of sharing a car is something akin to being asked to share your under-garments - there is just something not quite right about it.
Wandering around thumbing down random vehicles might be considered freeform taxi hailing. Hikers effectively turn any vehicle into an ad-hoc taxi. Unlike official taxis, of course, there is a complete lack of security between driver and passenger. However, drivers who are uneasy with the situation are unlikely to have offered a lift in the first place.
Car pooling with a chauffeur. Companies will often hire single cars to take employees to the same location or several locations in very close proximity. This tends to apply to training events or trips to and from airports.
Private Driving Instruction
While driving lessons are most commonly completed in a circular fashion, picking up and dropping off at the same place, it's also practical to use a driving lesson as a means to travel from Point A to Point B without resorting to needing a driving licence. This is admittedly rather an expensive option.
A common form of transportation in the Orient, it is basically a long tricycle with a wicker basket on the back into which a couple of passengers can fit. They serve the same function as a taxi, with the 'driver' sitting at the front providing the pedal power.
The novelty value of the rickshaw means that it has found its way into various cities across the world as a lure for tourists.
A variation is the pedicab, really just a modern version of the richshaw, with a reasonably comfortable two-seater carriage sitting on something like a massive tricycle frame. These are common across the world, from San Diego to the Philippines, and are available for hire through various private firms.
The official taxis of the world use a taximeter to measure the distance travelled and therefore generate a specific fare. Fares are generally charged per fraction of a mile or kilometre, with additional charges added for various reasons - usually because of extended waiting periods during the hired period.
Non-official taxis may also use taximeters, but these may not undergo the rigorous checking required by official taxis.
Mini cabs, and other non-official taxis, may run on the basis of a set charge for any given journey. Passengers are strongly advised to negotiate these charges in advance to ensure that an unreasonable fare is not forced upon them once the destination is reached.
Payments of Gratitude
Where friendly lifts, car-sharing or hiking are concerned, the payment will often be based on the individuals involved having the conscience to offer something towards the cost of the fuel and the hassle caused to the car owner. In some countries, or with some individuals, the thought of paying for the journey may not necessarily occur without heavy prompting from the driver.
Reasonable Advice For Hassle-Free Taxi Travel
There are a few basic considerations that should make handling taxi travel less of a chore for both passenger and driver. Keep these in mind and you will find the journey from A to B a lot less troublesome.
Before you set out, make sure to have the exact address you need to travel to, as well as the cross streets in places like American cities. This might seem obvious, but so many times a journey can be turned into torture if nobody knows exactly where the target location is. Driving around randomly can also be very expensive.
When trying to hire cabs on the street, don't trouble cabs that aren't for hire. There is usually a local system to show this is the case, from a brightly lit 'For Hire' sign to a combination of lights on the roof of the car. Familiarise yourself with the system to save on the embarrassment.
Do not give your destination before you enter the cab. Wait until you're inside. This saves on time, but most importantly it means that you've laid claim to the cab before the driver has any opportunity to object to your destination. They still might stop and ask you to leave, but it's more of a problem if you're already firmly seated in the back of the car. In New York, for example, taxis on the outskirts will often flatly refuse journeys 'Downtown' during peak hours.
Before you step out of the back of the cab, pause for a moment and check that you haven't left anything behind. Wallets, purses, briefcases, small children, etc are all commonly forgotten and not everyone is as honest as you might be.
When hailing for cabs in the street, keep an eye out for 'claim-jumpers'. There are some people who treat other people's efforts to hail a cab as some form of service that saves them the trouble. If you're not on your guard you may find that your ride has been hired and gone before you even have a chance to react.
Unusual Taxi Journeys
The longest hired taxi journey in the world was 14,414 miles - more than 23,000 kilometres. The journey involved almost two weeks of travel. A couple hired a taxi in Nokia, Finland and travelled down through Scandinavia and Europe to Spain, and finally completed a round-trip back to Nokia. The journey cost 70,000 FIM (Finnish Marks) - approximately £9,000 or somewhere in the region of US$14,000.