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Motor Traction

Dealing with Motor Vehicles for Business Purposes.

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Agents for the Colonies: GORDON AND GOTCH, London, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart, Launceston, Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland, etc. South Africa: CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY LTD

News and Comments.

The Taximeter Question.


NE or two of the daily papers have recently published letters from members of the public complaining of the inaccuracy of taximeters. Some of the writers appear to be under the impression that the drivers have "faked" the instruments. Some of them seem to think that the instrument can get out of order and over-register, and all of them apparently believe, with absolute certainty, that they are being grossly Now we have at various times touched overcharged. on this subject in Motor Traction, and of late the writer has made special enquiries in several quarters as to the possibilities of the occurrence of such inaccuracies as that quoted by a correspondent of one of the "dailies," who says he paid Is. 1od. for a certain journey on one occasion and had to pay 3s. 8d. the next time. Unless it was a matter of delay, and its consequent time charge, we certainly do not think such a discrepancy possible; in fact, such accidents as might happen to the taximeter itself would all tend. in favour of the passenger.

As regards the general accuracy of the instrument, on February 29th last we quoted a correspondent who in one afternoon made five journeys, each in a different cab, from Hyde Park Corner to South Kensington, and in every case the fare was the same, except once when the cab was hung up by a traffic stop for several minutes and then ran up an extra 2d. The writer has himself made the journey from Piccadilly Circus to High Street, Kensington, on several different days, and the fare has always been the same, though the distance is quite long enough to permit of variations owing to the different states of the road surface, if such differences caused variations. Experience of the trip. from Ludgate Circus to Euston has been just the same, so that one may safely assume that so far as the great majority of the instruments are concerned they are absolutely accurate.

It is to all intents and purposes impossible to "fake" the taximeter. Each type of instrument is first exhaustively tested as to design, reliability, and material for the Scotland Yard authorities at the Royal Physical Laboratory at Twickenham, and each actual instrument of the type passed in the laboratory has itself to be tested and passed for accuracy of registration by one of a number of sub-stations duly appointed by the Yard. The sub-station, having tested the instrument, seals it with wires held in a lead seal

embossed with the distinguishing mark of that station. Now, any driver who wishes to "fake his instrument must destroy those wires or the seal which holds them, and the penalty for running a cab on which. these seals have been tampered with is very heavy. Besides, we very much doubt, knowing the average driver's mechanical ability, whether it would be possible for one driver in a hundred to make the necessary replacement parts that would be necessary to" gear up the meter. It would be purely a watchmaker's job, and a clever job at that. The only simple "fake" would be the substitution of a small driving wheel for the original. Say, for example, a taximeter is made and licensed for a 32in. wheel and the driver substituted for it a 30in. wheel, he would be gaining all the time he was running by distance (or, say, 6.25% on his legal takings). Now every taximeter is marked by the testing sub-station for a certain sized wheel, while here again there are heavy penalties for substitution, and these would never be covered by the 6.25% made, so a man would scarcely dare to put on wheels of 2in. smaller diameter than the original, for they would be too quickly noticed. by the clever traffic inspectors who look after Scotland Yard's affairs in the street. Also there would be the cost of an entirely new set of wheels and tyres, besides those on the cab when it was passed by the licensing station.

Undoubtedly the biggest users of taximeters are the General Motor Cab Company, and their manager tells us that the only accident that ever happens to the instruments is the very occasional seizing of a bearing in the flexible tube which connects the meter with the road wheel. Once in a while this happens through lack of lubrication, and then the instrument simply sticks up and refuses to register at all, so that the passenger, at any rate, is not robbed. Another thing that might occur would be the grinding away of the operating star wheel by the spiral cam on the hub of the road wheel. Here again, if such a thing happened through inattention at the garage, the instrument would only cease to register. Similarly, if anything went wrong inside the instrument it would only throw it out of gear altogether; it could not gear it up. The only thing that could possibly operate against the passenger and in favour of the driver would be the distant possibility of the time clock, which does the measuring by time when stand

ing or going very slowly, getting so fast that it picked up over two and a half minutes per hour. In such a case it would ring up 4s. 2d. for the hour, instead of 4s. ; but there is very little likelihood of any of these tested clocks getting so hopelessly "out" as half an hour a day. Passengers may also find some consolation in the fact that the taximeters have to be brought into the licensing stations for tests at irregular intervals, so there is little chance of either deliberate or accidental fraud remaining undiscovered for long.

The Actual Causes of Difference.

After careful enquiry one is forced to the conclusion that by far the most frequent cause of seeming irregularities in charges is the carelessness or ignorance of the users themselves. Take, for instance, the lady who once travelled from Harrod's to Clarges Street for 8d., and who on a second trip found the instrument registered Is. 4d. The first time she probably hailed a taxi, boarded it straightaway, and had a clear run, free of traffic, to Clarges Street. Result, 8d. The next trip she hails the taxi, but stops for five minutes (a very moderate estimate) to discuss with a friend whether her new hat, etc. As the clock is turning up 2d. for every 21⁄2 minutes, there is 4d. of the first 8d. gone before the machine moves. Then, say, there is a 21⁄2 minute stop for traffic in Knightsbridge, another 2d. is scored. Another crawl a little further on, and up goes another 2d. Then a clear run to Clarges Street for the 8d. by distance only, and the Is. 4d. is accounted for. Elsewhere a man complains of a normal 2s. fare running up to 3s. 10d. Presuming that he kept the taxi waiting for 10 minutes at his door, that he stopped at a shop for another 10 minutes, and that he had a bit of genuine bad luck in having 71⁄2 minutes delay in traffic, the extra Is. 1od. is all accounted for. Apparently a good many users of taxicabs have not yet realised that with a taxi, even more than with most things, time is money, so long as the

flag is down. And the flag goes down the instant the cab is hired. It has been suggested that time and distance should be separate hirings, and should register separately according to the desire of the hirer, just as one may hire a horse cab by time or by the trip, as one wishes. The chief and obvious objection to this is that a cab hired by distance only has to keep its engine running while waiting, and while held up in traffic stops, so that it costs very little less in petrol and oil when it is so standing still than when it is getting over the ground. Someone has to pay for this fuel consumption, and obviously the hirer is the proper person to pay. Taking it all round, the taxicab is so much quicker, safer, and more comfortable than the horse cab that it is worth the little bit of extra expense; and the proof of the truth of this lies in the fact that no one ever takes a horse cab in London when there is a taxi available, although it is more expensive-and rightly so, since it costs more to work.

One of the drivers reckoned that on quite a fair week's work his own takings only amounted to £2 and some few pence, out of which he had to pay 12s. for petrol, 3s. for insurance, and 2s. for a "minder" to watch the cab on the rank while he had his food, leaving him 23s. for his own food, lodging, and clothing, and, as he put it, "it didn't leave much for the missus and the kids, except for the generosity of the public." So, after all, we come back to the necessity for further perpetuation of the apparently inextinguishable "tip.” There is no doubt that in the early days of the taxi the men made really large wages, and some of them gave themselves airs accordingly; but competition has already brought most of them to reason.

To sum up the matter, it is fairly certain that, assuming present prices to be fair prices, the public are not being robbed, and that the great majority of the users of taxicabs are very well satisfied with both the service and the price they are paying for it.


A 3 ton Yorkshire steam waggon with a convertible type of body that can enable the vehicle to be used for a variety of purposes. (See page 39)

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