A Little Journey in a Pittsburgh Taxicab
At fair Harvard there used to be a certain professor who began every address thus: "The subject before us this morning naturally divides itself into three parts--." Then the speaker would name one part and cast around in his subconscious cavity for the other two. My Little Journey in Pittsburgh Taxicabs was for three reasons:
First, the fun of the ride.
Second, to make myself familiar with the New Pittsburgh.
Third, to study the inner workings of the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company.
I arrived at the Pennsylvania Station at seven in the morning. That night I was to speak at the Bankers' Convention at the Hotel Schenley. I had the whole day ahead of me--how to spend it ! There are several ways you can spend time and money in Pittsburgh. I could hunt up "the boys," and they would turn themselves loose to entertain me. Jovians, Ad-Club, Rotarians, Bankers--which should it be? I just decided, for once, to play the game alone. Why, in good sooth--why should I push in the door and obtrude my personality on men who have work to do, disarranging their plans, making them ring up Bill, Jim, Aleck and Linford and knock business galley-west?
"Shall we begin the speaking now, or had we better let the boys enjoy themselves a little longer?" once asked the toastmaster of me. And there in Pittsburgh, on that beautiful Indian Summer day, I said to myself: I'll see this city without a "personally conducted," and I'll study this Taxicab Service from A to Zeppelin.
I had been told several times that the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company was the most efficient concern of its kind in the world. I had my doubts. Prenatally and by habit, I am from Joplin. I do not like those words "biggest," "best," "greatest," "grandest," "finest." Delsarte said, "Conscious weakness takes strong attitudes." Richard Mansfield said, "When a man is not quite sure of himself he raises his voice."
The Pittsburgh Taxicab Company does not advertise itself as having "the best taxicab service in America"--that distinction was bestowed on it by one of its customers, and then corroborated by others.
And so when I arrived at the Pennsylvania Station I just naturally stepped into a taxi, and said, "The Schenley!" And in a jiff I was moving easily and steadily along that delightful asphalt road that skirts the bluff to the Schenley four miles away. Arriving at the Schenley, I disembarked, paid my fare to the slim, good-looking chauffeur, and in two minutes was duly installed in my room, for at the Schenley the clerks seem to know everybody, and you are complimented by hearing your name pronounced before you write it.
Just here let me say that the distinctly modern play of having a good man outside the desk to greet guests is a mighty good plan. You remember a hotel for the greeting and the good-by, just as you remember a speech for the opening words and the closing sentence. Terminal facilities, Terese, good terminal facilities are fine things for orators or landlords.
And behold when I was duly deposited, with two grips in my room, I discovered that I was shy one item, to-wit: a nice Stein-Bloch eighteen-dollar overcoat. And straightway, I hustled downstairs to look for my taxicabby. And he was gone--gone--gone!
I smole a smile as I heard the doorman humming, "Good-by Piccadilly! Farewell, Leicester Square!" and murmured "How appropriate!"
In answer to his look of interrogation, I explained to him the loss of my overcoat. He smilingly assured me that all was not lost; that, as a matter of fact, nothing was lost, and that even though it was a long, long way to the Offices of the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company I should find my overcoat right there.
And then the man added this by way of polite consolation, "Ah, most everybody who rides in a taxi leaves something in it!"
And then a big idea came to me. I am like the late Julius Caesar. I get ideas from everybody, everywhere.
Instead of having one taxi and going all over town in this one machine, with one driver, I would get into a machine, go a few squares, or a mile or two, and when I alighted I would leave some article in the taxi.
I would make a Little Journey in a Pittsburgh Taxicab and test the truth of my friend's statement that nothing was ever lost that was left in a car operated by the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company.
So after breakfast I once more approached the head doorman and asked him to call me a taxi.
In a moment it was there--a beautiful, dark-blue Packard Limousine.
"Here is your taxi, Sir."
I stared. Here was some buzz-wagon, b'lieve me!--a regular royal revel. "Hoot mon!" I said; "that's ower muckle guid for a Pittsburgh taxi!" And he smiled.
Opening a small door beside the driver he showed me the taximeter--hidden away out of sight--and I was convinced.
We have adopted the Packard car as our standard equipment," explained the agent. "We find that the people appreciate the comfort and luxuriance of the Packard car--their looks and lux as it were. The Pittsburgh Taxicab Company's patrons know that the cars are reliable, and that they can be carried to the swellest places and best company in these cars of quality. Also, that it is ofttimes less expensive to take a Pittsburgh Taxicab than to operate their own private car."
So I clomb aboard and told the chauffeur to head for Schenley Park. I went around by the Country Club and back to the High School. I called on my dear old friend John Morrow; hunted up John Brashear, lens-maker maximus; then out to Knoxville to see Byron King, orator, laughter-maker, and gentleman superbus. I went to several iron-foundries and rolling-mills and visited a chow-chow emporium and biscuit-bazaar.
Finally I came back to the Lake Erie Station, because there is a great and good man on whom I always call when in Pittsburgh.
I made eleven stops in all. Sometimes I kept the car waiting, at others I dismissed it. When ready to resume my little journey I called Hiland 4400, told them where I was going, and in a brace of shakes there was a car.
I arrived back at the Schenley Hotel minus a memorandum-book, a pocketbook, a grip, and a pair of gloves. These I just molted.
My best Ingersoll Dollar Watch and a volume of Great Lovers I secreted under the rug of the last car.
And so we had our banquet and talkfest with the bankers at the Schenley and I had an hour to spare before I caught my train.
So I did the obvious thing--took a taxi! When in doubt in Pittsburgh take a taxi!
"Hiland 4400" I told the chauffeur. And away we glided to the General Offices of the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company.
I noticed my chauffeur's coat had five silver bars on the sleeve, also that he was well fed, well groomed and confident. He handled the wheel easily, yet firmly. He was alert, full of vim and vigor.
I made a mental bet with myself that he was married and knew it. Also, that the word "home" was one of the biggest words in his vocabulary. Later I found that my sherlock-holmesie-ing was correct--that the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company employ only married men, because they find that they appreciate a good job when they get it. When a man has a wife and family he has thrills and sensations enough without throwing in the high clutch on a joy-ride.
A house and lot is to be preferred to a lot in the cemetery, and when a man is trying to pay for property he is on his good behavior.
The chauffeurs in the employ of the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company are efficient. They are a cheery, intelligent, sober lot of men.
To be a chauffeur for the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company is a recommendation of all-round excellence of character and reliability. The closest investigation of the manner of living and record of service for five years previous to application for a position as a driver is instituted before the Company will employ a man as one of their staff.
He must be honest and reliable--able to take orders and obey the important rule, "Safety First." The silver bars I noticed on the sleeve of my chauffeur represented five years of efficient service--one for each year he had been in their employ.
The men pride themselves upon these merit badges, and the people of Pittsburgh also appreciate and know that the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company's chauffeurs are to be trusted. Hence it is that you see a great many women and children patronize the taxis. They know that they are in skilful, capable hands.
I arrived at the Offices of the Company, where I was met by an assistant to the General Manager. I stated my case and he listened respectfully. Conducting me to his office--right alongside the big Hiland 4400 switchboard which throws out its tentacles to every part of Pittsburgh--he 'phoned the description of my lost property to another part of the building.
Immediately the answer came, "O.K.--we have it," and in a jiffy a man appeared with the whole shooting match, all neatly labeled with the number of the car and the driver who had turned it in.
I was amazed. Here I had been throwing away all my baggage--leaving it in a dozen different places--and here I was handed a neat package containing every article. I learned my experience was a common one: that thousands of articles were retrieved every day--every hour of the day and night--by these alert public servants, the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company.
Day and night, holidays or Sundays, here are found competent assistants of the General Manager ready for all calls upon their efficient service. They are always "Johnny-on-the-spot"--alert, alive and willing.
I saw a driver come in with his car. He handed out a card on which he had noted that certain parts of the car needed attention. This card was handed to the Mechanical Superintendent, who turned it over to the proper quarter, where the deficiency was corrected.
Every car is overhauled, washed, polished, thoroughly cleaned inside and out, and disinfected before it goes out. Every car carries an extra tire and a set of chains.
And no matter what the weather, every chauffeur must carry them along with his car.
The Pittsburgh Taxicab Company takes no chances--"Safety First."
The taxicab with its energetic and untiring meter is the ever-welcome subject of the cartoonist and the joint stock joke of the comedian.
"The ticking ticker ticks;
And having ticked,
Not all your frowns and swears
Will get you out of it."
You've got to pay--so much a taxicab mile. And a taxicab mile is like the minutes of the last meeting--"passed as read."
It seems strange, though, if taxicab operation is such a paying business, and one which brings such enormous returns, that there are few companies in America that have been successful.
Some businessmen say the reason is because the rates are so exorbitant that people can not afford to use a taxicab. And they talk about the low rates in Europe and advise cutting the taxi fares in half. "If you do this you will double the number of passengers you carry."
Beautiful! Double the work--income same!
You may say, "Oh, but it is more than likely that a cheaper rate would increase your business fourfold."
I scarcely think so.
Conditions in America and Europe differ. European cities are older and more compact. London, for example, with its seven million inhabitants covers an area less than one-third that of Pittsburgh.
When these European cities were planned and built the time of rapid transit was not yet. Folks had all the time there was.
The coach was the chief medium of travel. Later came the hansom-cab, with jesting Jehu on the box and animated toast-rack in the shafts.
Then followed the busses and street-cars--all horse-drawn--to be in turn superseded by the electrification of the street-railroads and by taxicabs.
The taxicab is right in line with European customs and ideals. It is mobile--handy for short distances. To take a taxi is a habit with the European--when he can raise the price!
The washerwoman takes her washing home in a taxi; clerks go to and from their business in them.
There they are on every street-corner. You take a taxi, make a trip, and the taxi goes to the next corner and waits for another fare.
In this way he reduces his empty periods to a minimum.
And when the day's work is finished he finds that his taxicab has been earning practically all the time and been paid for most of the miles it has traveled.
Now how is it in America?
Here our cities cover a greater area--often fifteen or twenty miles in extent. The great street-car system feeds it at all points and rapidly rushes us from point to point. We rush, hurry, hustle, and even borrow time from the morrow.
In the morning we rush east; evening sees us returning westward. During the day traffic is cityward to the business district, and night finds the stream of humanity surging homewards.
The result is that the people who use taxis get them at one end of the system at certain hours. The Taxicab Company has to accommodate them, and so one half of the journey is done "empty."
Another difference between American and European taxicab operations is in the matter of "telephoning calls." Nobody 'phones a taxi in Europe. They are at every corner. But in America it often happens that a taxicab will go a couple of miles in answer to a 'phone call, pick up a passenger, carry him a mile, and travel two miles empty before getting another fare.
Five miles of actual travel and pay for only one!
The Pittsburgh Taxicab Company have endeavored to minimize this "empty mileage" by installing a private telephone system, and with some success.
But even with this wonderful system of telephone their cars are still obliged to travel half the time empty.
There is still another thing that militates against the successful operation of some Taxicab Companies--a defective charge account-system.
As a matter of fact it would be infinitely better if the idea of "charging" taxi trips were abolished.
You've got to pay anyway. And in many instances a charge-account system with an identification card or coin leads to extravagance.
There's the devil to pay as well as the Taxicab Company at the month's end. Especially if by some means "the boy" "finds" the old man's card or coin and uses it for purposes of his own. It can readily be understood what an enormous amount of work, worry and loss a poor system of charge-accounts entails.
Thousands of accounts have to be suspended, and a list of these is given to each driver, who is supposed to identify "sound" fares from "suspended" ones by this means.
If he happens to have a passenger whose credit is withdrawn, and he fails to recognize or identify him, he is obliged to pay the fare himself.
So he keeps the list of suspensions in the crown of his hat and surreptitiously consults it at judicious intervals.
But it has happened that his judgment has proved fallible and he has arrived at the point where his liabilities exceeded his assets: his salary was non est owing to have to settle up for delinquent fares.
As a natural result he changed his job, and the Taxicab Company was forever up against the problem of a constantly changing staff.
If a charge-account system is necessary, then I think the system of charge-accounts operated by the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company is the best I have ever known. They issue coupon-books, like the mileage-books used by railroad companies, and keep their patrons supplied with these books. The last four pages of coupons are a different color, and just as soon as one of these coupons is turned in, along by mail comes another book, keeping their customers constantly supplied.
If the patron doesn't pay, they stop sending him books. When a man has a trip in a taxicab, he pays with coupons and closes each transaction, doing away with all of the unnecessary bookkeeping and annoyance of having his credit questioned by the driver having to consult the list in his cap to ascertain if his account is good. The drivers know only coupons and cash in their transactions.
They send bills on the first of each month for all coupon-books issued during the previous month, and if the amount is paid within ten days, a cash discount is allowed, which is only right, as sometimes the books are not entirely used when paid for.
At one time the taxicab operator served three things: the world (meaning the public), the flesh (himself), and the devil (his employer).
That was before the time of the taximeter, when the charges made depended upon the conscience of the driver, whether you were an Elk or a jay, a royal octavo or just an ordinary common or garden pocket edition.
Disputes between driver and passenger were the rule, and the Taxicab Company suffered from the operation of the law of diminishing returns. Nowadays that is all changed.
The taximeter--that wonderful machine which is a combination of time-clock, speedometer, adding-machine and cash-register--precludes the possibility of argument or overcharges.
It is the tireless monitor that makes mistakes impossible.
The Pittsburgh Taxicab Company are interested in the manufacture of the famous Pittsburgh Taximeter made by the Pittsburgh Taximeter Company.
As a matter of fact, the same men are at the head of each concern.
The Pittsburgh Taximeter is used by taxicabs everywhere.
Each taxicab of the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company is equipped with this semi-human mechanism.
It is right on its job from the drop of the flag until the car ceases to work.
The meter registers fifty cents for the first half-mile and ten cents for every additional quarter-mile. Should you keep the car for a "wait" it checks off the time and charges you at the rate of One Dollar Fifty an hour.
The Pittsburgh Taximeter works all right--but it does not rob. It is accurate and trustworthy and has been adopted by the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company because it is far and away the simplest and most satisfactory taximeter that has ever been invented.
It used to be that any one wishing to pay a compliment to a manufacturing city said, "It is the Sheffield of America."
Now when we wish to pay a compliment to a growing, thriving, evolving county seat we say, "It is a second Pittsburgh." The city of Pittsburgh has created wealth faster than any other city ever has in the history of the world.
This wealth has been made simply by the application of intelligence to raw materials. The metals have been manipulated into things of use and beauty.
And the success of taking raw materials, and out of them evolving valuable commodities for the service of man, has turned on organization--the organization first of men, then of materials.
Let it not be forgotten that Andrew Carnegie and George Westinghouse got their business baptism at Pittsburgh. For all practical purposes, the United States Steel Corporation, the greatest and most beneficent corporation in the world, a concern with a capital of a thousand million dollars, is a Pittsburgh product. And the United States Steel Corporation has benefited the world at large a deal more than it has its stockholders. Besides steel, it supplies safety, sanitation, education--opportunity.
Then we get the American Iron Works, otherwise known as "Jones & Laughlin's"; the Pressed Steel Car Works; a dozen glass-factories, beside manufactories that produce salt, brick of a hundred kinds, stoves, brass, bronze, white lead, pottery, paper, lumber--never for a moment forgetting Brother Heinz with his fifty-seven varieties of palate-provoking pickles.
Art is produced from the surplus that commerce accumulates.
Pittsburgh has passed through the pioneer stage, and is moving out into the world of art and education.
The Civic Center in the vicinity of Schenley Park is one of the unforgettable sights to be seen in America.
Here are hotels, clubs, libraries, great conservatories and university buildings, stretching away on the landscape, all seemingly without crowding, with room to spare, giving us a sort of second Athens.
To be absolutely truthful, the Athens of Pericles did not have one-twentieth of the wealth that Pittsburgh has already invested in technical schools, libraries, art galleries, clubs and gymnasiums.
The original city of Pittsburgh is located at the confluence of the Ohio, the Monongahela and the Allegheny. This section is surcharged with nervous energy, and is as busy as downtown in Boston--and just as crooked. The word "crooked," however, applies only to the topography of the streets; for Boston and Pittsburgh, and all our other big financial centers, have learned the truth that Benjamin Franklin so well knew--honesty pays.
In no city in the world does friendship play a bigger part in affairs than in Pittsburgh. In bustling activity Pittsburgh is only surpassed by Chicago, and even this is a matter of argument; but in Pittsburgh I noticed there is always time for the friendly word.
In Pittsburgh I know a thousand men by name; also I call them by their first names. Health, good-cheer, courtesy and a spirit of friendliness abound.
The Pittsburgh Taxicab Company represents the spirit of Pittsburgh about as well as any institution that comes to my mind at the minute.
The whole idea of the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company is one of service.
Among other distinctions, Pittsburgh can make the proud boast that she wears out automobile-tires more quickly than any other city in America.
While men live longer in Pittsburgh than in most cities, yet automobile-tires are shorter-lived.
Undoubtedly the reasons are the stony streets downtown, the many abrupt turns, the multiplicity of street-car tracks, the hills which make the use of the brake necessary.
The more you apply your brakes, the quicker your stops, the sharper your turns, the more are you knocking the vitality out of your rubber tires.
Pittsburgh is a city of magnificent distances. It just runs over and inundates the landscape for a distance of, say, twenty miles, up and down the Ohio, the Alleghany [sic], the Monongahela.
Some roads are as rough and rocky as the road to Dublin.
Houses are perched on aerie crags and hilltops.
There are winding approaches and picturesque situations which are beautiful to anybody and everybody but the taxi driver.
There is no such thing as running on one speed in Pittsburgh.
The meter, however, does not run fast or slow as you run up or down. Be the road rough or smooth it makes no difference. You pay for just the actual distance traveled.
Altogether, Pittsburgh rates are exceedingly reasonable, when we consider the class of service provided.
It is beautiful to ride in a taxi if you are going somewhere worth while and if you know what you are going for. The money is well expended. Quick, sure, safe transportation to men and women of ability and means is a rare luxury.
With it all, the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company is successful, but not absurdly so. It pays modest dividends.
It pays good wages to every employee.
Nothing is skimped, slighted, overlooked.
The old-time cabby was eminently unreliable.
Lost articles were seldom returned. Truth was at a discount; and the story told by Robert Louis Stevenson of landing in New York at the dock and getting into a cab and being driven seven miles in order to reach his hotel, which he afterwards discovered was immediately across the street, is typical of the old-time service.
Information given you by a Pittsburgh Taxicab chauffeur is reliable. If the man does not know he tells you so, but usually he knows.
All over the city, at a hundred points or more, you will find the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company's telephones.
The box is open. Simply lift the receiver, state your case, and in two minutes the taxi will be there. It is sent from the nearest station. When the driver deposits his passenger he does not go back to headquarters. He reports from the nearest telephone box, and he remains right there until the operator tells him where to go next.
This marvelous telephone system puts a taxi at your disposal from any point in the city, night or day, rain or shine, Winter or Summer, in a fraction of a jiffy.
These telephone boxes are at all railroad-stations, the principal hotels, the big department-stores, at theaters and clubs. It is a service unsurpassed for people of quality who prize the best, who carry big burdens jauntily, and who, like Napoleon, know the value of time.
Courtesy, kindness, sanitation, hygiene, quick, safe, sure transportation--these are the things dealt in by the Pittsburgh Taxicab Company.
The service given is an honor to one of the most picturesque, different and wonderful cities that the world has ever seen.
And best of all, this service is evolving and growing as the city of Pittsburgh grows.
And look you, Genevieve, the city of Pittsburgh, comparatively, is just a debutante--watch her grow!
Transcription of this material is thanks to E. H.