Almost every Pittsburgher has a Yellow Cab story. Usually it’s not a story with a happy end… or, as a matter of fact, a happy beginning.
You know how these stories go: My cab never showed up.
I had to wait three hours for my cab.
Yellow Cab is a joke, I missed my doctor’s appointment and had to reschedule. If you don’t have the cabbie’s cell phone you will wait all day.
My cab showed up after I already reached my destination by bus… after giving up on waiting and getting any sort of response from the Yellow Cab dispatcher.
It was so expensive and my cabbie actually showed up late with another passenger still in the car — I was just shaking my head in disbelief.
In the past few weeks following the announcement about ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft entering the Pittsburgh market, we have heard many enthusiastic comments from Pittsburghers about how the city needs a better cab service and how the new alternatives could solve a problem of inadequate supply and poor customer service.
Yellow Cab is not the city’s only taxicab company but it is the biggest and the oldest one, thus, it gets all the blame. But we heard from Yellow Cab drivers too. They tell us it’s hard to support a large fleet and make profit, do small trips and make profit, rely on Pittsburgh’s traffic and provide impeccable customer service.
We get it. It’s never easy. Change is hard but Yellow Cab lived through some hard times. Let’s take a look in the rearview mirror on the history of Yellow Cab in the city.
Yellow Cab began its operations in Pittsburgh more than a century ago and initially was known as Pullman Taxi. It was the first cab company in Pennsylvania, and to this day it remains the largest taxi company in the state. The Pittsburgh newspapers documented the company’s progress, interviewed the cabbies about security and dress code, witnessed the introduction of a cell phone into operations, studied taxi routes and how the meters worked and reported on the companies during major strikes.
Ironically, in its early days, the company faced resistance from the Public Utility Commission for trying to establish and maintain a monopoly. In 1947, according to the Post-Gazette, “Yellow Cab offered to put 425 new cabs on the street if the PUC turned down an application from Peoples Cab Co. to operate in Pittsburgh. The PUC denied Yellow Cab’s request, and Peoples Cab later became part of Pittsburgh Transportation Group.”
Yellow Cab had never faced fierce competition, it grew by purchasing several competing companies such as Owl Cab Co. and Airlines Transportation Co. These days, Yellow Cab has about 335 sedans, shuttle vans and wheelchair-accessible cabs in service.
Things used to be worse on several fronts for Yellow Cab. The company was on the verge of collapse in 1980, having a pretax loss of $213,000. Its fleet was made up of rickety old Checker cabs and its telephone system was antiquated. The negative image was at its peak. Yes, it was worse. Then the company changed hands and things got better, the fleet and equipment were renovated, some of the security concerns have been addressed and the image of Yellow Cab was “headed in the right direction,” as the Post-Gazette put it in 1991.
And here we are, 23 years later debating the fate of the company that just last year celebrated its 100th anniversary and became Pittsburgh’s institution. History is an unpredictable and rarely smooth ride, isn’t it?
In 1991, the Post-Gazette quoted a cabbie working for Yellow Cab and using cellular phone (a new gadget back then) to supplement the company’s radio dispatch, “When I pick you up, I’ll listen to any horror story about the service you had before and say, ‘That’s all behind you now. Call this number…’”
… or, maybe, as we would say these days, use an app? Not if you choose Yellow Cab. Not yet… at least. Update: In May 2014, the PUC approved Yellow Cab’s request to launch Yellow X.
In any case, we hope you enjoy your cab rides. And have a story with the happy end.