The black London taxicab is as much a feature of the cityscape as the red bus. With 22,000 self employed licensed drivers and over 19,000 licensed taxis in London they provide a valuable link in the transport network, as well as being very popular with tourists.
Contrary to popular belief, Black Cab’s don’t and can’t charge what they like. All fares are metered, with a minimum charge of ?1.40 and increments of 20p for each 219m (after the first 438m). There are however additional charges for extra passengers, front seat baggage and late night trips. So the next time you go shopping on the Kings Road, remember to buy as little as possible, and shop alone. It’ll save you money for the ride home.
Now not anyone can become a Black cab driver. There is an examination called The Knowledge which must be passed in order to be a registered driver. The exam can take up to 3 years to prepare for and results in three quarters of all entrants dropping out. There is no diploma or certificate awarded when passed, just a tin badge, which is worthless outside of London, but it is the cornerstone of the Black Cab taxi trade.
So what do they have to do to obtain The Knowledge?
Basically all they have to do is commit to memory every street within a six mile radius of Charing Cross; every street and what is on that street, every church, restaurant, museum, cinema. Pretty easy – right?
It’s also worth noting that a recent study by University College London showed that a Black cab drivers grey matter is larger than most others due to the brain-straining feat of passing The Knowledge. Perhaps something worth remembering the next time you’re looking for members for the pub quiz? (You may even get a lift home too!).
Once they pass The Knowledge they then can purchase a Black Cab which can cost between ?30k-40k. This allows them to charge higher fares than competitors, which can lead to Black Cab drivers earning anything from ?25–40k per year. This figure can vary as they are all self-employed and are free to choose their working hours.
The main competitors to Black Cabs are Minicabs. Despite the name, minicabs may offer space for more passengers than a black taxi. They are now licensed but are unmarked, and cannot be legally “hailed “ and is worth bearing in mind that they don’t have meters and charge by the mile. This may result in your house appearing to be 10 miles further away than it was when you left it!
And then there are “Gypsy cabs” which are unmarked, unlicensed, uninsured, and generally unsafe. Gypsy cab drivers swarm in areas like Leicester Square, Theatre land, and most clubs and pubs in and around London. However, with the number of attacks on women travelling in unlicensed cabs on the rise, they really should be avoided.
So even with all of these factors to contend with the Black Cab is still one of the most popular and effective ways of seeing London for tourists, if not the indigenous population.
Ask a New Yorker what the difference between a cab in London and NY and he’ll probably say not much, apart from the fact they can speak English and they know where they’re going!
So this Christmas, why not treat yourself to a ride in a Black Cab. The driver will have The Knowledge, charge you fairly and who knows? You may even enjoy it.