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This is a very interesting subject that is near to my heart but I am going to give you an alternative opinion from the viewpoint of the alternative option you have to the normal taxi we all know as the black cab, and that is the mini-cab. As far as I know London is the last place in the country to still have mini-cabs as such. So this opinion concerns only London. I speak with some authority as I have recently changed my career but have spent 25 years driving through the streets of London as a mini-cab driver.
What is a mini-cab you ask? A mini-cab is generally a privately owned car, (Not all are, some are rented to drivers from the cab companies for which the driver pays a rental for the car hire.) The driver works for a company on a self-employed basis and pays commission or rent to that company for that company to supply him with work. That work is taking you from A to B.
Until quite recently mini-cab drivers were not licensed as the normal black cabs were. Nor were they regulated by the authorities and checked for safety. There were no mechanical checks on the cars and the drivers were not vetted for criminal records. So they could literally be anyone. Rapists and murderers included. (I am not trying to be dramatic here.)
However that all has all changed with the authorities clamping down on the cowboys and introducing regulations for the mini-cab companies operating in London. All the offices now have to be licensed by the Public Carriage Office, the same authority that regulates the black taxis. All the drivers now have to apply for a permit and are police vetted the same as the black taxis. Also soon to be introduced are medicals and twice yearly MOTs for the drivers and their cars respectively. The main reason for this was that there were a lot of bad press, (I, E, women being sexually assaulted and robberies of the public.) This I am afraid was an argument I was annoyed with as in the press they said it was mini-cab drivers doing this but it wasnít, it was people pretending to be mini-cab drivers. And anyone with a car used to be able to do that, and some still try.
Now I donít think many tourists know about mini-cabs as the black taxi has such a huge reputation abroad. Most tourists just think that the black cab is the only form of taxi in London, so quite naturally they donít think about searching for other forms of taxi. I know this from experience as I pick up a lot of people from hotels and most of them look at the car twice and check it is their cab. They expect a black one. Thatís why I am here, to educate the tourists, and any of you that donít know about us.
What is the difference between a black taxi and a mini-cab? There are a few differences. The first and most obvious is the vehicle. Black taxis are black. Most of them are anyway. Occasionally you will see one painted a different colour, this is usually for advertising purposes. Mini-cabs can be any colour and any model car. We use estate cars, people carriers, saloons and hatchbacks. However usually they always have four doors. You donít get two door cars operating as mini-cabs. Itís too difficult to keep lifting seats up when the cars full and you need the room for luggage anyway. Secondly black taxi drivers have done what is called ďThe KnowledgeĒ; this is an in- depth-training course on the location of the streets of London and how to get there. Also included are clubs, hotels, points of interest, airports, stations, and quite a few other pieces of information. They cannot become a black taxi driver without passing this test first, and it is quite rigorous.
A mini-cab driver has no formal training on these matters. He trains himself, or the company he works for trains him. (This is generally only in the larger offices.) However it doesnít usually take long to learn, as long as the driver is fairly intelligent. However I will admit you do get the occasional plonker who hasnít got a clue. The good thing is they donít usually stay in the business long as they donít earn enough money.
The next difference is that you can hail a black taxi from wherever you are on the street, or whatever your location is. It is illegal for mini-cab drivers to answer a hail from a member of the public. You must book the car by phoning the mini-cab office first. (A VERY IMPORTANT WARNING HERE. TAKE NOTE. UNLESS YOU ARE AT A RESIDENTIAL ADDRESS THE CONTROLLER OF THE CAB OFFICE SHOULD ASK YOUR NAME. GIVE YOUR NAME AND WHEN THE CAB ARRIVES ALWAYS ASK HIM WHOM HE IS PICKING UP. DONíT GIVE HIM YOUR NAME FIRST. I PICK UP SO MANY PEOPLE WHOM SAY, ďARE YOU THE CAB FOR SAM, JOE, ETC. LET HIM TELL YOU FIRST.)
Another difference, which doesnít really concern the paying customer directly, is that although all cab drivers are self-employed, black and mini-cab, black cab drivers work as sole operators, whereas mini-cab drivers work in conjunction with a company. There can be as little as four drivers or a few hundred working for mini-cab companies.
The biggest and most important difference is the price. Black cabs are in my opinion expensive compared with mini-cabs. Black cabs run a meter that clocks up as you go along and takes into account mileage, traffic and time. There are also extras; you pay more for extra people that travel. The time of day. (More expensive at night.) And how much luggage you have. A recent example and I know this as I have black taxi drivers as friends. Heathrow airport to Canning town in east London at 8am by black taxi for one person with one suitcase was £65. The mini-cab price for three people three suitcases at the same time of day to the same place was £40. A big difference. Some mini-cabs use meters but always ask for a quote first and that is what you pay regardless of road conditions or time of day etc. (However they do charge waiting time so donít hang about when they arrive.) Most mini-cab offices have fixed prices for all the major London destinations. I think this is the major advantage mini-cabs have over their rivals.
As with everything in life we have a choice. No one seems to have addressed mini cabs as a choice of transport in London, but I think it is an important one. I think they both have advantages and disadvantages. I think the mini-cab is a cheap reliable alternative to the black taxi. As long as you adhere to the simple rules, i.e. donít hail a mini-cab always phone, and check he knows your name you should be fine. As the rules get more rigorous, (and they always do) minicabs should start to enjoy a more professional status, the same as our black taxi partners. It is easy to find a mini-cab office just use your local phone book or yellow pages where they are listed under mini-cabs. There are literally hundreds of them. Just look for one local to you. If you are in a hotel ask at reception. But make sure you tell them you want a mini-cab, some hotels use black taxis especially the large expensive ones. So please do think about useing a mini-cab instead of a black taxi for your travels around London.
t's good to see changes being made to the licensing of mini-cabs to allow those plying an honest trade to do so and yet protecting the public. I live just outside of London and unfortunately we have council licenced cabs there. £15 for a 2.5 mile journey at 11pm is never welcomed! CBx
m.lyon 05.10.2003 16:44
Some nice advice there - very useful for tourists. Great op. marc
lazza123 01.10.2003 10:06
Hi Great op, a friend of mine is a mini-cab driver, and all of what you say goes!! Well done Larry