The UK taxi industry currently operates a two-tier system, and there are two different definitions of what constitutes a taxi cab:
- Taxis (also known as ‘black cabs’);
- Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs — also known as ‘minicabs’).
The main difference between the two is that, while both types can be pre-booked — either at a licensed office, through the internet, or by telephone — only taxis can be hailed in the street or hired from taxi ranks (known as ‘plying for hire’).
However, a large number of black taxis now carry out pre-booked and contract hires, and PHVs are now frequently booked immediately before hire (for example, at supermarkets and railway stations). According to a UK government briefing paper penned by Louise Butcher in 2018, the distinction is becoming increasingly blurred, and there now exists a fine line between on-spec bookings and plying for hire.
So, just to clarify — it is illegal to hail a minicab in the street in the UK, but it is legal to hail a black taxi. Black taxis tend only to be found in larger cities, so this means that if you live in a small town or village, you will usually need to book a private hire minicab in advance, either in person at their office, on the internet, by phone, or via an app.
If you live in a large city where black taxis are frequently seen on the streets, then feel free to hail them, as follows.
How to hail a black taxi
- A black taxi cab with a light on its roof displaying the word ‘TAXI’ is available for hire.
- If the light on top of the taxi does not display the word ‘TAXI’, then they are unavailable for hire.
- When hailing a taxi, extend your arm clearly as the cab approaches you, and it should pull up as closely to you as possible. Taxis will not pull up if it is not safe to do so, so avoid standing too close to bus stops, pedestrian crossings, level crossings, traffic lights, etc.
- Never shout, “TAXI!” at a black taxi while it is moving. This is against the law and taxi drivers will not stop for you unless you stick out your arm to hail them.
- When a hailed taxi stops, approach the front passenger side window and explain to the driver where you want to go. Only once the driver has confirmed that he/she is able to fulfil your request should you get into the back of the vehicle.
Although being able to hail a black taxi has its benefits, it is worth remembering that black cabs can often be more expensive than their PHV minicab counterparts.
In today’s gig economy, with the growing number of apps aimed at PHV operators, it is now possible for anybody with a full, clean driving licence to become a taxi driver. In fact, many people do just that, whether it’s just to earn a little extra money on top of the day job, or whether it’s a case of deciding to take up taxi driving as a chosen career path.
Most self-employed minicab drivers, whether they are working full-time or as casual drivers, will tell you the price before they start driving (you may need to request this). It may also be possible to negotiate with them more easily than with a taxi, since black cabs are fitted with taximeters, meaning that mileage prices are fixed.
Finally, apps such as Uber, Ola, Lyft, mytaxi, Gett, kabee, Taxify and Karhoo allow passengers to communicate their travel requests to nearby taxi and minicab operators, and drivers logged into the app can register nearby demand and choose whether or not to take the request, in real time.
This could be seen as a modern-day digital version of “hailing a cab”, and many people find the convenience offered by such apps preferable to waiting around on the off-chance that they might happen to see a black taxi go sailing by at the appropriate moment!