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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


The New York Times
April 26, 1914

Drivers, to Get Any Business, Make Frequent Turns and Block the Corners.


Traffic Expert Tells Aldermanic Commitee Stands with Signals Are Needed for Horse Cabs.

On the 1st of August, 1913, the new public hack ordinance went into effect.  Among others who hailed this ordinance with joy was the Fifth Avenue Association, because the ordinance promised not only to lower cab fares, but also to take off the cruising hacks from our business streets and make them stand at designated places in side streets.  Cheaper can rates are now an accomplished fact, but cruising hacks have become a far greater nuisance and hindrance to smooth movement of fast vehicular traffic on Fifth Avenue.

A close investigation made by J. Bernstein, Traffic Engineer, under the auspices of the Fifth Avenue Association, discloses the following conditions:

Certain side streets were designated as public hack stands by the Mayor, through the License Bureau, and for a short period some of the cruising hacks took their places on these stands.  A very brief experience, however, proved that, owing to the absence of an adequate signal system, it was impossible for the drivers of such hacks to earn a living, and, therefore, they promptly abandoned the stands and again took to cruising up and down the avenue.  A specific count in the region from Thirty-second to Forty-second Street shows that the number of cruising hacks doing a regular business on Fifth Avenue has almost doubled since the census was taken in Decemeber, 1912.  The percentage of empty hacks to cabs actually transporting passengers is now a little more than 4 to 1.

Analyzing the statistics gathered, proves that the average cab driver is employed in transporting passengers for a period of fifty-two minutes during the hours from 2 to 6 in the afternoon; not a very profitable business proposition for the owner of the hack.  That hackmen still continue to drive up and down Fifth Avenue within a very few blocks is due to the fact that motor cabs are quite well distributed now on designated stands throughout the city and in spite of their being a little more expensive than a horse-drawn cab, they are freely patronized by the public since they are always in sight.  Thus a large number of horse cabs that used to find employment during the day in various parts of the city are trying to recoup themselves by crowding Fifth Avenue where most of the fares are to be picked up and the anomaly of a decrease in the total number of all-horse cabs throughout the city accompanied by a large increase in the number of horse cabs in the restricted locality of Fifth Avenue finds its explanation.

Article 7, Section 5 of the public hack ordinance, legalizes the cruising hacks.  In an attempt to regulate them, however, there are some stringent rules for the method of how the cabs should move.  Indeed, no cruising hack could possibly live up to the rules laid down in this paragraph and pick up a passenger, according to Mr. Bernstein.  The very fact that he wants to solicit business compels the hack driver to move at the slowest possible speed and to seek the corners where such passengers are waiting.  The Police Department is doing all in its power to check this evil, but it is practically impossible for the traffic man in the middle of the street to successfully prosecute the offenders.  Legal evidence to convict one of those hackmen must be so technical that it is out of the question for anybody unless he devoted his time exclusively to the watching of specified hack drivers to gather it.

The situation has been brought to the attention of the Aldermanic Traffic Commission, and at the last meeting of this commission Mr. Bernstein suggested the following as remedies.

1.  The public hack ordinance should place responsibility for its enforcement exclusively at the hands of the Police Department.  At the present time two departments, the Bureau of Licenses and the Police Department, are charged with enforcement of this ordinance.  Experience has shown that responsibility divided between two departments does not work out well.

2.—A system should be evolved by which the Police Magistrates should notify the Commissioner of Licenses whenever a public hackman is fined by them for infringing on traffic regulations.  The revocation of the license should be exclusively within the power of the Commissioner of Licenses.  (To-day the Magistrates share this power with the Commissioner of Licenses.)

3.—The cruising of hacks should be absolutely forbidden.  Specified stands should be assigned in the proper locations for horse cabs as well as for motor cabs, and they should be compelled to use them.  In order, however, to be fair to the cab drivers some system of signals should be installed at every cabstand, so that the hack driver might be promptly notified when and where he is wanted.  The first man in line should be the one to answer the call.

4.—Horse-drawn cabs should be equipped with taximeters.

5.—The rate of fare for horse-driven vehicles should be changed so as to read: "for the first half mile or any fraction thereof, 25 cents; for the second half mile or any fraction thereof, 25 cents" the rest of the charges to remain as they are.  This would give an opportunity to a large number of shoppers to go from store to store at small expense and would prove a good source of income for the cab men.

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