Savvy Tips for Using London Cabs Like a Boss

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If you’re not used to riding in cabs, it can be a bit intimidating at first. For those outside the UK, who do not travel by taxi, adding British currency and culture to the mix requires some swotting up. Read on, dear neophytes, and soon you’ll be using London cabs like a boss!

Brief History of the London Cab

London cabs were once horse-drawn carriages called “hackney carriages” which dates back to 1662. With the introduction of automobiles, the design of the London cab has changed several times over the years. It was in 1945 that the iconic black cab became the London taxi we all know and love today. Though this traditional style has endured for over 70 years, London cabs come in all sorts of colors and are often plastered with adverts.

Use London Cabs Like a Boss

Hailing a Cab

If you’ve been to the Big Apple, you’ve may have heard locals yell to flag down a cab. It’s a bit different in London as townies are not as “shouty” as New Yorkers.

  • DO – hold out your arm to a cab and they will stop.
  • DON’T – shout “TAXI” to a London cab driver. Technically, it is against the law and they will not stop for you.
  • Mind Where You Stand – it’s always a good idea to avoid hailing a cab near a bus stop, pedestrian crossings or any obstruction.
  • Availability – if the word “TAXI” on top of the cab is lit up then it’s available for hire. When already in service the light is off.
  • Reaching Your Destination – before getting into the cab, go to the front window and tell the driver your destination or ask if you’re unsure. If it’s a hotel, restaurant or landmark, just say the name and they know the way including the quickest route.
  • Sit in the Back – when you’ve finished speaking to the driver, hop in the back. There’s enough room for a total of five people (3 on the backseat and 2 on opposite fold-down seats).

Black Cab Culture

Remember, things are done differently in London than in other cities. Mind the culture, lovelies, for when in Rome…I mean England…

  • Know the Lingo – Whether a bloke or a bird, cab drivers are often referred to as “cabbies” and cabs are still referred to as “hackneys” from time to time.
  • Getting Gabby – If you’re a chatterbox, then cab travel is for you. Cabbies are fond of chatting with their passengers and it is certainly welcomed. They are a wealth of London knowledge and are happy to offer suggestions and advice.

Hiring a Cab

It’s your first time in London. You’re all dressed up and you’d like to hire a cab to join your mates at the swanky pub across town. You can ring up a local cab company or use an app.

  • Distance Requirements – drivers are required to accept any hiring up to 12 miles or up to a one-hour duration if the destination is in Greater London. They are also required to accept any hiring up to 20 miles for fares starting at Heathrow Airport.
  • Taxi AppsKabbee is an online service for minicabs which are cheaper than hiring black cabs. It’s also an app that works on iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows phones. For more cab apps, go to Transport for London – Taxi Apps.

Payment and Cab Fares

Cab fares vary due to time and distance. Your cabbie will tell you the fare once you’ve reached your destination. Fares are tracked by a meter and may be higher if there are delays or heavy traffic. Check out Transport for London Taxi Fare guide for details. Here’s some important fare and payment info:

  • Cash or Credit? – You can actually use cash, a credit or debit card, and there’s no extra charge for using your card.
  • Minimum Fare – you will pay a minimum of £2.60 at all times.
  • Extra Charges – extra charges must be added to the meter at the start of a journey.
    • There is an extra charge for up to £2 if the taxi is booked by phone or online.
    • There is an extra charge of £2.80 for journeys that start from Heathrow Airport.
    • There is an extra charge of £4 for journeys made on December 24 – 27 and December 31 – January 2.
  • Tariff Charges – There are 3 standard tariff periods set by Transport for London which increases fares at certain times and days of the week. Check out TfL Tariffs for more information.

Tipping a Cab Driver

  • For a Typical Fare – the customary tip amount is 10-15% of the total fare or round up to the nearest £1 and tell the driver to “keep the change”
  • Further Distance or Assistance – if you have a longer journey or the driver has assisted you with your luggage, it’s standard to tip a bit more and up to £5.

The Knowledge

London cab drivers have to pass a test called “The Knowledge” before they can drive a cab. The average time to study and pass the exam is 3 years because drivers have to memorize every London street within six miles from Charing Cross. This knowledge amounts to 320 routes, 25,000 streets, and 20,000 landmarks!

Did You Know These London Cab Facts?

Here are some interesting facts from Bloomsbury International:

  1. Most cabs in London are owned by the drivers and are run as independent businesses.
  2. London’s taxi industry is often ranked number 1 in the world.
  3. There are currently around 21,000 black cabs in London.
  4. Many black cabs have a turning circle of only 25 ft (8m). This means they can turn around in small spaces and go around very tight corners.
  5. The name “taxi” comes from the “taximeter” – the tool used to calculate fares.
  6. A cab must be tall enough to accommodate someone wearing a bowler hat!

Have you ever taken a London cab? Tell us about your experience by logging in and posting your comments or Tweet us at @BritWordaDay.


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