POLTAX taximeter with an add-on, inventory No. MIM 698/III/53; created: 1960s, 20 th century; manufacturer: Poznań Factory of Water and Gas Meters; location: Poznań, Poland; materials: steel, glass, copper, paper; dimensions [mm]: taximeter – H 270, W 158, L 167, add-on – H 79, W 105, L 41.

A taximeter is a measuring instrument installed in vehicles used to provide services in the transportation of passengers and cargo. Taximeters were mechanical in the past but are now electronic. The so-called “taximeter”, an instrument used to measure distance covered and to calculate the time required to complete a given route, was invented in the 1890s. It was created by a German inventor, Wilhelm Bruhn.

From the perspective of the customer, the taximeter is a device which communicates the appropriate remuneration for a given amount of work.

M. Gołębiowski: When was the best time for taxi drivers or, in other words, when were the profits the highest?  
T. Osiecki: When they got paid at state-owned farms, so from the 7th to the 15th day of each month. But also, when there were parties, and, of course, after the harvest period.  
R. Lewandowski: When the “Kasztanowa” restaurant was being closed, because the patrons had “enough” [laughs].  
E. Niedbalski: My wife never knew how much I earned [laughs].  
MG: Were there times when you waited several hours for a customer?  
TO: Sure, there were. I once waited nine hours. A customer showed up and said “Kwidzyn”. I’m very happy with what I hear, we start the ride and then he says: “Please stop for a second at the train station”. He gets off and boards a train. And I drove him for free. He just ran away without paying.  
B. Zagórski: There were times when you waited for several hours, a customer would then come and ask for a several-hundred-metre ride to the train station, where Zdzisiek Król’s shop is now. Nothing you could do about it. You just had to go...  
MG: Did you have any specific working hours? Mr Zagórski said that you could usually find a taxi at a stop up until 10 p.m. How was it?  
Z. Olszewski: You’d usually wait until the closing time of the joint, longer during the weekends, sometimes even until morning.  
EN: The ones where you would take someone to a party and they said “You have to be here, when we come back” were the best. So, you waited, but the idle fee was still paid.  

Taximeter indications may generate a dispute, for example between the service provider and the customer, when the rate or fare price becomes the subject of discussion (#conflict_potential). State regulations regarding fuel prices and taxi fare prices were in conflict in the economy of the PRL (Polish People’s Republic). The “regulation” or raising of prices was a topic that evoked strong emotions and reactions among customers. Drivers identified a phenomenon which they referred to as “customer sulk”, whereby during the month following a price increase, people did not use taxis. In contrast, a fare price which was low relative to fuel prices and vehicle maintenance costs, which had been determined by a top-down decision, and which had to be displayed by the taximeter, caused dissatisfaction among taxi drivers, and even caused #strikes.

First taxi drivers’ strike in the PRL era, 1973. The price of “whip juice” [gasoline] was regulated (…) to 6 zlotys per litre and the drivers (PL. złotówas) were not allowed to increase their rates proportionally to the increase in the price of a litre of gasoline, and car operation cost.

The taximeter was a #work_control tool for the workers. This equally applied to the drivers of state-owned taxi companies, as well as private taxis.  If taxi drivers applied higher rates, they were stripped of their license. The train station was especially risky. Two ORMO officers dressed as yokels and asked for a ride to the clinic. And if a taxi driver took them and then said the rate was 20 zlotys instead of 10.5, they showed their badges and said “That was your last ride as a taxi driver”. The taxi drivers were afraid and there was iron discipline.

MG: Was there any official taxi driver registry?
TO: Yes, we used to pay membership fees in Elbląg.
EN: Moreover, we had to send our taximeters for a mandatory check each year. The inspection station was in Grudziądz. If tests showed some tampering, you’d lose your license straight away.

A large taximeter, which was visible from the outside and was an identifier of vehicles providing transport services, was an additional #work_emblem, although it was not directly linked to a specific person. The taximeter could be the cause of work_hazards as taxi drivers were exposed to robberies by criminals expecting large amounts of cash.

The removal of this identifier via the disassembly of the taximeter was essential if the taxi driver was the car owner and did not work for the state-owned taxi company. The disassembly of the taximeter exhibited at the Museum of Urban Engineering was troublesome, unlike the disassembly of the electronic taximeter which appeared in the 1980s. Where the taximeter was constantly present in a private car, we can identify the #mixing of work time and free time and the observance of #flexible_working_hours.

The taximeter, despite its inherence to the fact of performing work, can be deactivated in exceptional circumstances where the taxi Is hired for an agreed fee, for example where the taxi is hired for a wedding.

The etymology of the profession “taxi driver” derives from “taximeter”, which explains the moniker often used to describe taxi drivers, złotówa. This moniker evidences the social work perception associated with taxi drivers. According to the dictionary, a złotówa is someone greedy and cheating (mingy złotówa).

Well, you did earn the moniker złotówas. There is a prevailing opinion that taxi drivers cheat, contrive... 
We are not offended by that. Various profession earned similar names. There are dishonest people everywhere. Among taxi drivers as well, of course. Except for the fact that in the past you could earn good money, support your family and save a bit, today we have to pay Social Insurance and VAT. You often have to work for 14-15 hours, and all you get is a net income of PLN 1500 a month.

According to some taxi drivers, the origin of the moniker is less value-laden. It is supposed to come from the official rate visible on the taximeter: 1 Polish zloty per km.

MG: Taxi drivers – some of the few private owners of that time. You earned the nickname złotówa – where did it come from?
TO: Maybe because the first kilometre costed one zloty; when people saw us, they would say: “Look, the złotówas are coming”.
ZO: One more possible origin is that customers would often travel on the cuff, and were not so eager to give the money back later on – you had to chase every one of them for each outstanding penny.   The taximeter often had its own name in the #professional_jargon of taxi drivers, for example bookie or lever.  I turn on the bookie, 4 zloty 50 grosz to start with. We’re driving, a “nod” or “wave” every now and then (…).

The taximeter is referred to in the memoirs of taxi drivers, but only in the memoirs of those that for various reasons, political or moral, were not subject to self-censorship. Their authors are independent or are self-mocking, as in the publication by Roman Kamiński entitled Ja lotczyk…TAKSÓWKARZ. On the other hand, the taximeter is not mentioned in a well-known autobiography by Marian Sękowski entitled Pamiętnik warszawskiego taksówkarza.

Journalist interviews and memoirs focus on the perspective of a taxi driver as an observer of everyday life, or a potential hero of unusual events. The taximeter, since it related to sensitive matters (remuneration and aforementioned conflicts), did not appear in the questions of journalists. The dominant theme in contemporary autobiographical narratives is the former taxi driver ethos. They document waiting at the taxi rank, queueing, engaging in mutual aid, and receiving threats.