"Yellow Cab, Pittsburgh’s oldest taxi service"
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 a 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.
In any case, we hope you enjoy your cab rides. And have a story with the happy end.
— Mila Sanina
June 30, 1946: Pittsburgh’s violent demise
Last week we made a wrong turn while exploring a far corner of the vast PG photo archive. Hopelessly lost, we dug our way out through the W, X and Y files. There, we discovered a folder labeled, “World Ends.”
We scratched our mulleted heads. Pittsburgh has always existed in its own time warp. Pop culture, music, fashion — we’re always a decade or two behind. So the Earth was destroyed? And we missed it? No big deal, we decided. Sooner or later we’d hear the news on our transistor radio. That’s how we learned last month about the cancellation of “WKRP in Cincinnati.”
We opened the folder and found a surprise: Five illustrations depicting the demise of Pittsburgh by various (and mostly violent) means. The spectacular illustrations, by staff artist Ralph Reichhold, were published in The Pittsburgh Press “Roto” magazine in the summer of 1946 under the inspired headline, “End of the World.”
A brief story explained that the world “as we know it” was bound to have an end — probably not for a while, the Press assured its readers. But then again, “it could conceivably happen today or tomorrow.”
The feature, inspired by an “end of the world” show at the Buhl Planetarium, offered up five possible methods of destruction:
1) Comet attack. Well, the optimistic writer admitted, this probably wouldn’t end the entire world, just one locality — “Pittsburgh, for example.” Yikes! But don’t spend too much time worrying about an attack by malicious comets. “The chances of it happening in the near future are infinitesimal,” read the Press.
2) The sun grows cold and we become human popsicles. “There could be no escape from this frozen death,” the article noted. Then we glanced at the weather forecast and thought, “Hey, wait a minute.”
3) The sun explodes and fries us all. This method would have the added effect of reducing our entire planet to a cinder. We’re thinking the traffic jam at the Squirrel Hill Tunnel would survive. It survives all.
4) Break-up of the moon. We consider this the most creative idea: The moon decides to get a bit closer to the earth. Earth’s gravity tears the moon apart. Chunks of the moon crash down on the ‘Burg. Quite possibly several hundred of us could survive by seeking shelter in that monstrous pothole on Ft. Pitt Boulevard near Market Street.
5) Atomic warfare. This scenario certainly was the most terrifying — and probable. One day after publication of Reichhold’s illustrations, the United States detonated its first atomic weapon since the bombing of Nagasaki. Readers of the Press on July 1 were presented with a front-page picture of a mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll.
Top illustration: A comet attack levels the Wabash Bridge. (Illustration by Ralph Reichhold/The Pittsburgh Press)
This is morbidly amazing.
1970-72: “Final moments of Forbes Field”
Imagine a playground in place of Posvar Hall on Pitt campus. Yes, indeed, a place for kids to play ball in the heart of Oakland. It could have happened after the demolition of Forbes Field in 1970.
Jane Allon and Paul Boas, two Oakland residents in their 20s, proposed the idea to the University of Pittsburgh, which owned the ballpark after the Pittsburgh Pirates moved to Three Rivers Stadium that year.
“South Oakland, in particular, had very little in the way of open spaces for the kids to play in,” Mr. Boas, who is now a criminal defense lawyer working in Pittsburgh, said recently in a phone interview. “The idea that this historic, wonderful place would be there for a year or more and not used at all seemed to me to be a real waste.”
“Why not open it up for kids to play ball?” a 23-year-old Boas thought back then. Today, he realizes that even in 1970, officials were likely concerned about accidents inside the concrete and metal structure.
The plan collapsed when the state told Allon and Boas they needed $3.75 million in liability insurance.
On Christmas Eve that year, the right-field grandstands of “Clemente Corner” caught fire. It became a five-alarm fire when Pitt security guards couldn’t find the keys to the center-field padlocks, a fire chief told the Post-Gazette that night.
“This fire would only have been a two-alarmer if they could have opened those gates,” chief William Maurer said. The guards arrived within 10 minutes after the emergency call.
After the fire, a group called Peoples’ Oakland cooked up their own battle plan for the space. The group hoped to convert the stadium into part of the nearby community, instead of only a Pitt academic space. Peoples’ Oakland lost, and Pitt ended up building Posvar Hall.
Demolition began quickly, aided by another fire in July 1971. Arson, inspectors concluded. Several youths had been living inside the structure, they said, and the fire damaged a locker room and storage area.
Even though the Pirates won a World Series a year after moving to Three Rivers Stadium (a demolition crew at what used to be Forbes Field was listening on the radio to that October victory over the Baltimore Orioles) buyer’s remorse followed. Compared to Forbes Field, wrote Pittsburgh Press sports editor Roy McHugh, Three Rivers Stadium was bland.
Forbes “had character. It had grass. It had a view beyond the ivy-covered walls, where shade trees grew and Sunday afternoon sun worshippers camped on a hill,” he wrote in June 1975.
Never again would Pittsburgh baseball fans like Paul Boas — who grew up in Squirrel Hill and took many five-minute street car rides to the park — pay $1 to watch a game from the bleachers.
— Ethan Magoc
Never going anywhere near a plane or a pig farm again.