10 Surprising Facts about the London Black Cab

The iconic London black cab is synonymous with London culture.

However, there are many things about the London black cab and the licensed taxi trade which many, even Londoners, are blissfully unaware.

For instance it was once supposedly illegal for people to hail a cab while suffering from the bubonic plague.

[T]his is still partly true, as the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act of 1984 requires a person suffering from a notifiable disease to inform the cab driver, who may then decide whether to convey the passenger to their required destination. If he does so, he is then required to notify the authorities and disinfect the cab before taking another fare, just one pointless fact from this Guest Post.

1. Did you know that despite its name, a black cab doesn’t actually have to be black? Even though black may be the most common colour, they can come in a variety of colours, with white, red, blue and yellow all being acceptable.

2. The black cab is designed to have a turning circle of 25ft. This allows taxis to manoeuvre in tight spaces and for them to navigate London’s roads more easily.

3. Despite the advantages of flexible working hours, only around 2 per cent of black cab drivers are women.

4. Technically, shouting out taxi when a black cab drives past you is illegal and the taxi will not stop for you. If you do want to hail a cab (and make sure it will pick you up), simply stand at the curb and raise your arm out.

5. Taxis are only available for hire if the light at the top is illuminated. If it is off it means that it’s already carrying passengers.

6. The term “taxi” derives from a long line of other related words. It is often shortened from the word “taxi-cab” which in turn was formed by merging the words “taximeter” and “cabriolet”. The taximeter is of course, the device used to calculate the fare and the word is derived from the Latin word “taxa” which means “to tax or charge”. A cabriolet refers to the old fashioned horse drawn carriage.

7. In order to obtain the much coveted “green badge”, would-be black cab drivers have complete “The Knowledge”. Conditions on passing the exams include the ability to memorise 320 routes, 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks within a six mile radius of Charing Cross. It usually takes the hopeful black cab driver around 2-4 years to pass depending on how much they practise.

8.  A black cab has to be tall enough to comfortably accommodate a passenger wearing a bowler hat.

9. There are approximately around 21,000 black cabs operating in London.  Many black cab drivers own their own vehicle and are considered to be self-employed.

10. Perhaps a fact more pertaining to personal safety, but black cabs are the only taxis allowed to ply for hire. It is illegal for a minicab to pick you up off the street. So if you’re trying to hail a cab and a minicab stops, do not get in! There’s a chance that the vehicle could be unlicensed and you cannot verify the identity of the driver.

That sums up our top ten interesting facts about the London black cab. Tradex has been providing taxi insurance for some 20 + years, so there’s not much we haven’t seen in our time, apart from bubonic plague.

7 thoughts on “10 Surprising Facts about the London Black Cab”

  1. Sorry to be picky but there are a couple of inaccuracies here.

    2. The 25ft turning circle was specified so that horse drawn cabs never had to be disconnected and reconnected from the horses to navigate a small fountain outside the Savoy hotel. Yes it makes it easier to navigate London but it’s not the reason the 25ft turning circle was introduced.

    5. A taxi only HAS to have its taxi light on the roof illuminated after the hours of sunset, it can ply for hire without its light on at all other times but NOT after dark, having the light illuminated does not compel a driver to stop (here may genuinely not have seen you, you can’t “nick him for not seeing you) these days taxi lights are driven by the taxi meter, when you are running the meter in London if you are empty the meter powers the roof lighting anyway extinguishing the lights when the run button is pressed, but it’s not actually the law.

    7. The last time the knowledge was measured the average pass time was 50 months, there is a lot more to learn than the basic routes and points of interest.

    8. The roof height has to accommodate an “average height man without requiring him to remove his Top hat” – not bowler hat

    9. There are approximately 23k licensed taxi drivers

    Great article tho thank you!


    1. Thanks for that very comprehensive reply and I take on board all the points.

      I once saw a cabbie with a nearly new TX2 (or it might have been a TX4) negotiate round the fountain in the Savoy’s entrance soon after the hotel reopened. He managed to crease his near side door sill brushing against the new brickwork. He was not pleased.


  2. Can someone please tell me the origin of the custom of addressing the cabbie and agreeing on destination through the window before entering the cab? I heard once it was to save the drivers from back injuries from the constant twisting movement necessary to face passengers already in their seats. Any knowledge or literature on this?

    Thanks from Norway!



    1. Welcome to CabbieBlog, and from Norway, a beautiful country which I’ve had a great holiday there (pity about the cost of meals though!) The tradition, as I see it, of discussing the destination before entry is that you have a verbal contract between you. The passenger promises to pay the fare shown on the meter, while the cabbie is bound to take them there. The discussion is better conducted BEFORE rather than later (trying to extricate someone from inside isn’t always easy). Once the correct destination is agreed, i.e. Clapham, not Clapton, and assuming it’s under 12 miles (20 miles if starting at Heathrow Airport) or up to one hour duration, any longer leads to further negotiation, the journey may proceed and both parties can have reasonable confidence upon the outcome, and a possible tip for the cabbie!
      Oh! Most drivers end up with bad backs, not sure if leaning back is the problem, or the weight of their earnings!!!


  3. Thanks for swift reply, Gibson S!
    Well, it makes sense, given the need for precision in the name of a destination – and is very civilized as well.

    What a fun blog. Thanks so much!

    And yes, the price of eating (and even worse to eat properly!!) in Norway is outrageous – not to mention the cost of washing it down with “something”.

    But I am on a train now, and the snow-covered countryside is rolling past me and is occasionally breathtaking. So, until I am hungry or thirsty once again, I will forgive the prices for now : )

    All the best!



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