115 years ago, the first taxis left Prague. They were few and they helped the poor

Few people can imagine Prague transport today without the ubiquitous taxis. At the same time, let’s leave aside the various controversies and problems that today’s taxi service market binds. It was precisely Prague that was the first city in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy to introduce so-called car taxis. It happened exactly 115 years ago, on September 7, 1907.

If the first cars were called horseless carriages at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, taxis not only in the streets of Prague were procured by horse-drawn carriages long after the appearance of the first two-wheeled motor-driven vehicles. The change began to take place in the spring of 1907, when a “taxi meter car” appeared at the Prague Motor Show, as Epocha magazine reported about the Laurin & Klement car. Its editor added that the car manufacturer from Mladá Boleslav wants to start actively operating such a car on the streets of Prague.

Roughly half a year after the presentation at the Prague exhibition, autodrožkas, as taxis were called at the beginning of the 20th century, actually appeared in Prague. They went into trial operation on September 7, 1907, and a day later even ordinary residents of today’s Czech metropolis could order a car instead of a carriage and horses. Initially, there were four Laurin & Klement B2 and C2 cars, the stations were on Wenceslas Square, at Prašná brány, on Ferdinandová třída (today’s Národní třída), in Havlíčková Street and at Masaryková Nádraží.

A period flyer warning of the start of “auto cabs”, as taxis were called in 1907. | Photo: Škoda Auto

The poster of the period invited a comfortable and cheap ride on “car trams”, while the proceeds from the first day of rides were supposed to go to help poor people. The fact is that although the flyer claimed otherwise, taxi driving was not for everyone at first, the target group was wealthier people, mostly arriving in Prague by train. That is why the sites were located near the railway station. In any case, Prague was the first city of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy where taxis appeared. Vienna also overtook it.

However, the popularity of taxis grew only very slowly. The costs of transportation were not the lowest, in addition, the First World War came and after it the collapse of the monarchy. All this meant that in 1920 there were only 40 taxis in Prague. On the other hand, in the next five years there were already 470, at that moment the post-war boom of the economy became apparent. At the same time, taxi service cars no longer only had the Laurin & Klement logo, or later Škoda. Other brands were also appearing.

Taxis in 1913 on Wenceslas Square. | Photo: Škoda Auto

Despite the considerable increase, car taxis were only gradually supplanting fiacras and horse-drawn carriages. Let it be proof that in 1933 it was still possible to meet them on the streets, even though there were only seven taxis, 33 cabs and 1,156 taxis with combustion engines.

Another boom in the car taxi business was interrupted by World War II and fuel shortages. From the spring of 1942, taxis could only drive within the boundaries of the Prague police district and only at specified times. The situation after the Second World War faithfully copies the political situation in the whole of Czechoslovakia. Until February 1948, the taxi service was in private hands, but after the communist coup, similar to most other business sectors, it was nationalized and centrally managed.

Of course, the vehicle fleet was gradually modernized, in which, in addition to Skodas and Tatroveks, cars of foreign brands also appeared. Pobedy, Volga, Polish Warsaw or later Žigulíky. From January 1962, the taxi service was incorporated under the Prague transport company, where it remained until the beginning of 1989. Then the state company Taxi Praha was established, but two and a half years later it disappeared and the taxi service once again became part of the private sphere of business.

Škoda 1200 as a taxi in 1956 near the main railway station.

Škoda 1200 as a taxi in 1956 near the main railway station. | Photo: Fortepan / Nagy Gyula (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

It is also good to remember that, especially in the days of normalization, the profession of a Prague taxi driver was a very lucrative place. Although at first glance everything was centrally managed, in fact a very sophisticated black market operated in the area of ​​taxi services as well.

The article is in Czech

Tags: years taxis left Prague helped poor

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