15 Facts About London Cabbies (and Their Cabs)

The Yellow Light On Top His name was Martin. He was the cabbie who pulled up to the right intersection at the right time and he was mine. I stepped out of the Mediterranean restaurant (very good, dry Turkish white wine, olives, hummus, herbed bread) and almost literally into Martin’s cab. I had been to the British Museum earlier. (Have you been? Oh, the priceless treasures!) It was pouring rain and I was far from my hotel room and late for a date to see “Mamma Mia.” Taking the Tube was not an option as it was 5pm and I knew that it would take forever to go from British Museum/Covent Garden area back to the Lancaster Gate or Paddington stations (the tube stops closest to my hotel).  Martin was there. It was fate. This was especially fortuitous as I would have been SOAKED, having forgotten altogether about my umbrella, which I’d left in the restaurant when I rushed out (and which is hopefully now keeping some other potentially wet soul from that sorry state). Although a bit spendy, a cab was the only way to go. And, by the time we arrived at Sussex Gardens, 19 British pounds later, Martin and I were fast friends and I had learned some quite interesting and amazing facts about London cabbies and their cabs:

1. London cabbies are officially called…cabbies.

2. They are self-employed. They own their own cabs and the money they make is their own. Except, of course, the part that goes to taxes and licensing and fees and petrol and insurance and, etc…

3. This allows for lots of flexibility in scheduling which is the reason Martin chose to be a cabbie. He could take his kids to school, go to their football games, grab a nap…

4. It takes YEARS of study to be a cabbie. Martin studied for 3 1/2 years everyday before taking the myriad tests he had to take to do what he does.

5. Some of those tests, of course, were driving tests to make sure he was familiar with every road in London. Wow.

6. There are 25,000 cabbies in London.

7. Only the cars with the yellow lights on top are official London cabbies. These are the only ones ever to take because if you take one that does not have the yellow light on top, you might be harmed (read: harmed). There are 6-8 assaults a week in non-yellow-light cabs, often those that are pre-booked and come to pick you up at your hotel to take you to train stations, airports, etc. And, to repeat (which is what Martin did about 3 or 4 times), do not use cabs that do not have the official London cab yellow light on top!

8. When you sit in a London cab, notice the six-digit number on the door. This number matches the license plate. If your cabbie is rude, makes you uncomfortable, takes you the long way round, or is inappropriate in any way, make note of this number and call the police. They will be able to track the cabbie down and pound him into bangers and mash.

9. When the London Olympics were going on in 2012, the cabbies had very slow business because everyone in the city had been told to work from home to prevent horrible crowds. Martin says they did exactly that and the cab business was ironically, surprisingly, bad for a spell.

10. Cabbies are quadruple-licensed and highly-regulated. Although they own their own vehicles, the government monitors the meter and amount charged quite closely which allows for great integrity and legitimacy. You can trust your London cabbie!

11. You can use a credit card in the cab. There is a service fee of about 2 pounds, however.

12. Cabbies are trained and expected to know wonderful facts, tidbits, and trivia about London. For example, did you know that one of the best museums in all of London is the unsung London Museum? It’s true. Martin extolled its virtues. Why, there you can find out about the plague and the fire and the Romans and much more. I wish I had more time, I’d love to see it. One day…

13. London cabbies are also expected to be friendly and polite. How great is that? Wouldn’t it be loverly if we were all trained – and expected to be – nice? As a nurse, I can think of a few different populations that I wish had this training…

14. If you are not alone, say have two or three friends with you, you can tell the cabbie to turn off the meter and he/she can take you on a London tour for about 35 pounds per hour. That’s pretty cheap, splitting two or three ways. Plus, he’ll/she’ll be a great tour guide!

15. When you see those cabs with all the colorful and decorative painting or those with adverts on the sides, that means that the cabbie is being paid 1000 pounds a year to be a moving billboard. Remember, even with the artwork, as long as there is a yellow light on top, the cab is legit.

So, there you have it. It was a tremendously amiable and informative cab ride in the rain! Hope it’s helpful and if you have any additional information about London cabs, please do tell!

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15 thoughts on “15 Facts About London Cabbies (and Their Cabs)

  1. Sam

    I’m originally from London (I was born and grew up near to where the Olympic Games were held in 2012), and I did actually know all of these facts, except for #14. My mum’s former partner was training to be a cabbie, and I remember him spending hours and hours memorising routes and street names in his office! Apparently in the test, they can just ask you to go from (for example) “the door with the elephant knocker” to another place and you’re expected to know exactly where that is!

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    • Sam, thank you so much for adding richness to this post with your comments! Craig Taylor, in Londoners, interviews a cabbie who explains the rigor of preparing for the job in much the same way you just illustrated. The details about locations, not to mention the trivia and history is incredible. Plus, the majority of the cabbies I’ve met have been truly nice people! There is a warm place in my heart for all cabbies. Thank you again for reading and commenting!
      Renate

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  3. I think my namesake was being a bit protectionist in some of his tips. Minicabs are cheaper than black cabs and are licensed, though at a lower level than taxis and they are not expected to know every London street. Black cabs are significantly more expensive than Minicabs because of the higher level of licensing, the convenience factor of just flagging one down when you want one and the way that the metering system works on a combination of time and actual road distance travelled. Minicab fares are set by the companies themselves in competition with each other and are usually based on zones so you don’t get charged more if the driver decides to take a slightly circuitous route and it’s in the driver’s interest to get you to your destination asap so he can collect another booking. There have been cases of Cabbies molesting passengers – in one high profile case a cabbie had a string of such offences and had somehow found a way of drugging his victims (which is why it took so long for him to be caught). Oh, and did you know that if a Cabbie assists you with loading your luggage he has the right to charge you for doing that too!

    I haven’t used a black cab in years, largely because of the expense, and I only use a minicab where necessary – bringing my wife home from the hospital recently for example. The key is to find a minicab provider you’re comfortable with and use them exclusively. Of course, for the tourist the best way to see London is from the top deck of a London Bus – you just need to check out the routes before travelling 🙂

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    • Martin, thank you so much for this educational and thought-provoking reply! As I read your comments, I thought, “Hmmm…perhaps my cabbie was discouraging the use of other forms of cabs inpart because it would hinder his and his fellow cabbies’ business!” This may have been evident to quite a few readers but I am often hopelessly naive about profit-making tactics, etc. (I also tip too much and am always kicking myself for this. Americans, sheesh…)
      Thank you, again, for creating a more multi-faceted look at the not-so-black-and-white world of the cabbies of London!
      Best to you,
      Renate

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      • NP Renate – I should add that I am in no way connected with the business of ferrying people around town – I’m a telephone engineer with only an impartial axe to grind 😉 ps – if you have time in hand on that trip from the British Museum to Lancaster Gate the number 7 bus might be a nice alternative to the underground 🙂

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            • I like that phrase ‘Time in Hand’ ! I plan to acquire some time in hand and try the bus my next trip. I’m staying near Paddington station next time – which bus would work from the British Museum?

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              • The easiest way is on the Underground – Bakerloo Line to Oxford Circus then Central Line to Holborn..That should take around 30mins with a 10min walk from Holborn. (Tottenham Court Road would be closer but it’s currently closed to the Central Line as they are building Crossrail). The 7 Bus route has actually been altered since my comment – now terminates at Oxford Circus. A 27 will take you to Warren Street and you could walk down Tottenham Court Road from there to save getting another bus – again, that’s around 10-15 Minutes to the British Museum. You could get a bus down Gower Street to save the walking – there’s lots of different routes doing that run.

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