Tag Archives: Black cabs

Hore-Belisha’s babies

It’s that time of year when the tourists start migrating to London.

Thousands of them descend on the streets forming long conga-lines each one of them intent on following the leader.

[B]UT UNLIKE NATIVE LONDONERS, they tend to stick rigidly to the designated crossing points in the road. Those crossing points are the fault of the gloriously named Leslie Hore-Belisha (1st Baron Hore-Belisha, of Devonport in the County of Devon).

Who in 1934 as Transport Minister was appalled by the statistics that in one year 7,343 died and 231,603 were injured on Britain’s roads.

Soon after being appointed to the post he nearly became a statistic as he used a pedestrian crossing. His brush with death came as he was crossing Camden High Street when a sports car shot up – or was that down? It was two-way then – the street narrowly missing the good Baron. This is not different from today’s Camden High Street except nowadays you have a choice in which car to select to hit you, in 1934 probably only two cars an hour drove up the street.

At the time every vehicle was subject to mandatory speed limits except perversely motor cars, so after his Camden High Street incident, he introduced the 30mph speed limit in built-up areas to all vehicles. Many said that it was the removal of ‘an Englishman’s freedom of the Highway’ but undeterred he also brought in law mandatory driving tests.

Belisha Beacons

His most visible legacy – which actually is the subject of this post – was the pedestrian crossing with their familiar black and white striped poles surmounted by an orange flashing light, nicknamed at the time ‘Belisha Beacons’, the familiar zebra stripes on the road were only introduced on 31st October 1951.

The most famous of these zebra crossings is at Abbey Road made famous by The Beatles which has been given heritage listing ignoring the fact that the crossing has been moved from its original location. Tourists daily risk life and limb being photographed as frustrated drivers push their way across as the tourists stand in the middle having their picture taken.

Nearly 80 years have passed since Belisha’s blinking invention was introduced and apart from a zebra, we have had a few pelican crossings, the occasional panda and now at Oxford Circus one straight from Tokyo the Shibuya crossing with its countdown timers.

Most crossings are still the originals with the stream of tourists patiently holding up traffic as they hesitantly negotiate the West End’s roads. You know they are from out of Town as the locals obstinately refuse to cross at the designated points choosing to jaywalk instead.

The worst crossings

Two years ago a fellow cabbie put out a question. What are London’s worst crossings? Despite the advances in traffic control the top five – as if they were listed heritage sites – remain as Hore-Belisha would recognise.

5th – Abbey Road. I know I’ve already mentioned this one, but what I can’t understand is why people who weren’t even born when that ‘iconic’ shot was taken want to pose on a crossing when Sir Paul McCartney who lives nearby could be walking past with a bemused look on his face. I often see idiots taking their photos on the crossing further north by Abercorn Place.

4th – St Paul’s Churchyard. Everybody around here seems so terribly polite. But with the exaggerated bonhomie, there is always a tourist running across at the last minute. The view of St. Paul’s west door is great though.

3rd – Bow/Russell Street. Situated right by the Royal Opera House and a junction where cabs are constantly trying to turn into the main flow of traffic. The tourists seem to queue up here to jaywalk.

2nd – Endell/Bow Street/Long Acre. Within a few hundred yards of our 3rd placed entry. This one is on the turn of the road that’s littered with rickshaws. It is crying out to be converted into one of those new fanged pelicans or is that panda crossings?

1st – Great Marlborough Street. Since the ‘dirty dozen’ was closed off most of Soho has just become a car park. Cabbies turn down Berwick Street and right into Great Marlborough Street to miss the nightmare of the Shibuya diagonal crossing at Oxford Circus. You are then confronted with herds of young women who are leaving the perfume department at Liberty’s and others queuing to get in.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 30th April 2013

Black Cab Sessions

Of the many uses of ‘retired’ cabs featured on CabbieBlog, probably the most famous conversion is Black Cab Sessions which started in 2007 and has toured London and America recording music from the inside of a London black cab.

With the banner ‘One Cab. One Song’ they wanted to see music differently, to provide audiences with an alternative to glossy promos.

[I]t is something that has brought them closer to what they found exciting about music – the magic and intimacy of a live performance. A mobile recording studio on wheels they film artists performing on the back seat of a London black cab, in one take as the cab tours around mostly London giving a constantly surprising and shifting vista.

It’s a journey that has seen them take the black cab over the Atlantic exploring the sounds of America’s cities, and with over 200 sessions and 40+ million views.

As they say: The meter is still running.

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.