The Big Bad Black London Cab? Pros and Cons of the London Cab
The London taxi, officially known as the Hackney Carriage, is the signature vehicle of the British capital. If someone flags down a taxi service in London, the chances are it’ll be a black cab. The Hackney Carriage originally appeared in 17th century London as a means to combat transportation problems. These horse-drawn carriages lasted until the early 1900s, when the internal combustion engine was invented and, during this century, the iconic cab emerged.
Nevertheless, are these iconic vehicles really good for London taxi journeys or do we need to think of alternatives for public transport in the capital?
The black cab is one of London’s tourist attractions. Alongside the Routemaster buses it is the preferred mode of transport for many tourists finding the underground service hot and disorientating. There is nothing like a ride in one of these vehicles. If this regular fixture disappeared from the streets, many would agree that it would strip the capital of one of its most iconic features.
Nobody knows just how much the Hackney Carriage contributes to tourism numbers, although we can be sure to say that no one comes to London to see a black cab… but no one can deny how much it actually contributes to the overall London experience.
The London taxi isn’t cheap. For all its advantages, it charges much more than any other form of public transport. The metre goes up whilst racing towards the destination, but it also slowly goes up whilst idling in traffic. With roads being so congested, it is often more cost-effective to just take the tube or a mini cab with fixed prices per-mile.
The agility of the cab is one of the reasons why it has managed to sustain its popularity over the years. Even celebrities and politicians use these cabs when required. They can weave in and out of bus lanes and into tight corners like no other vehicle and no one knows London as well as it’s drivers (fact)! It is a delightful mode of transport for traversing through London’s streets.
In other UK cities, taxi drivers just need to have a reasonable knowledge of the area, a driving licence and GPS. Training to be a black cab driver in London still uses something called ‘The Knowledge’. The Knowledge is a geographical test that requires taxi drivers to drive to destinations all across London without the help of satellite navigation. It can take years to acquire and most trainee drivers need multiple attempts before they can become an official part of the iconic transport system. In short, and coupled with the cost of renting one of these cabs, there is not a steady stream of available drivers.
In the UK, most taxi services are private hire. This means customers have to call the taxi operator and have them send a car to you. In London, visitors can hail them directly from the road. Empty cabs will happily pick passengers up and take them to wherever they want to go. For travelling short to medium distances, it is also the fastest most convenient form of transport available.
Part of the charm of cab transportation is the reassuring clunk of the engine; they are rarely updated. The former cab model, the FX4, lasted for forty years before finally receiving a replacement in the late 1990s. It isn’t on the cutting edge of environmental engineering. London black cabs are not environmentally friendly and collectively they still pump out thousands of tonnes of carbon annually, contributing massively to London’s carbon footprint.
Keep or Shelve?
The question the capital has to answer is whether the high costs of running and the environmental concerns have become so great that the black cab’s iconic status isn’t important enough any longer. Whilst some would consider it blasphemy to question the supremacy of the black cab, it is a question more and more people are beginning to ask as we start to look toward more efficient forms of transport. Of course it would be sad to see these icons off the road – so how about a more energy efficient update Boris?
We may not be a provider of black cabs but we sure do have a lot of knowledge. Click here to book a quality, reliable, affordable cab with Amitours
Images all courtesy of flickr: Linnie, Prasad Kholkute, Mikey