Tag Archives: London cabs

Back to black

Pillar boxes were once green, but they were changed to the familiar red to make them more visible. So why is it that London’s Black Cabs are – well black?

The name ‘black cab’ apparently originated as a slang term within the London private hire trade, whose members had appropriated the term ‘cab’ to describe their Nissans with the ubiquitous aerial on the roof with an old plastic bag protecting the paintwork, it was the official term the Public Carriage Office used until 2000 for the taxicabs they licensed.

Regulations by some British provincial taxi licensing authorities specify the vehicle’s livery to denote it as a vehicle for hire. The Public Carriage Office’s Conditions of Fitness has never specified that a London cab has to be a specific colour, in fact, pre-war cabs had coach-built bodies and were painted in a variety of colours.

After World War II the famous Austin FX3 was introduced, they were supplied with factory-fitted steel bodies, and these were painted in a standard colour of black, due to post-war austerity it was the cheapest colour to supply. Different colours were offered at extra cost, but few, if any buyers were prepared to pay for them and so black became the standard colour for London taxis.

Its successor the FX4 was offered in three colours; black, white and carmine red, though black remained the choice of almost all buyers, many of whom were fleet owners.

In the 1970s, Mann and Overton, the FX4’s sponsors and dealers asked the maker, Carbodies to supply more colours. These were not taken up by fleet buyers, but when the finance regulations were relaxed at the end of the 1970s, more cabmen opted to buy cabs instead of renting them and chose from an increased range of colours.

Now London cabs are found in all colours, including special advertising liveries, but in the opinion of this writer, all cabs should be black to differentiate them from the plethora of alternative private hire vehicles.

Incidentally Back to Black is the second and final studio album released in October 2006 by the late singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse whose father Mitch just happened to be a London cabbie.

Your ride is here, get in by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

London Taxis last more miles than any other car

Today we reproduce an article by Matt Thorne at AutoPredict which documents some of the insights have gained whilst studying MoT histories and developing an AI model. Other findings unearthed from the study of MoTs can be found at AutoPredict.co.uk/blog/

In the UK every vehicle must annually have its safety, roadworthiness and emissions inspected as part of an MOT test. This happens in many countries across the world, but the UK is unique as this MOT data is available for anyone to view and have access to. The quality and quantity of data mean many exciting and previously hidden insights can be found by analysing the data. Whilst developing our AI model that predicts how long a car will last we have uncovered some of these insights. Rather than keeping these hidden, we plan to share some of these insights in the next few posts.

This Post

Today we are going to look at which car on average does the most miles before it is taken off the road. Several articles have previously been written finding the highest mileage vehicle in the world, but these only look at individual cars. These cars are often owned and maintained by an enthusiast and don’t represent every other car of the same make, model, engine type etc. We wanted to know when you look at all the cars of the same type and averaged how many miles they did before they were taken off the road, which car does the most. As you might have guessed from the title, a specific category of vehicle out does any other.

Many factors effect how long a car is kept on the road. Very few cars simply die and cannot be fixed. Averaging the final miles of a particular type of car can therefore reveal insights not just about the cars themselves, but about who tends to own them, what they are used for, and the period of time they are used in.

The Results

So which car on average does the most miles? Even just grouping cars by their manufacturer immediately reveals a clear category of cars that drives far more miles than any other… Taxis. More accurately vehicles that are specifically built to be taxis. Here we are showing the top 5 highest mileage manufacturers. London Taxis Int, Carbodies and Metrocab, are the top 3. All make cars specifically made to be taxis and on average they all do more than 250000 miles, nearly double the next nearest manufacturer Mercedes.

Grouping by manufacturer and model shows Taxis still at the top, with some models averaging more than 350000. To show some context we have added the Mercedes Sprinter to the chart. This was the first non-taxi coming in at 12th and averaging just under 200,000 miles.

Finally, grouping by manufacturer, model and engine we see London Taxi Inc TX4, 2.6 Diesel come out on top, averaging an astonishing 440000 miles. Taxis dominated the top 50, with only 7 of the top 50 cars not being taxis. 6 of these were vans, such as the Mercedes sprinter and VW Transporter and the last was the Mercedes Ambulance. Again we have added the Mercedes sprinter to the bottom of the chart. This was the highest non-taxi coming in at 26th.

To really highlight how many more miles taxis do than all other cars we have plotted the distribution of the miles reached by taxis (London Taxis Int, Carbodies and Metrocab) and all other cars. Taxis have a lot more variance in their final miles, but their average is far higher.

Why Taxis?

All this begs the question, why is it that taxis do so many more miles than other cars? On the face of it, this might seem quite simple. Taxis spend all day driving around so, of course, they will do more miles. But if a car can do so many miles, why don’t all cars? In the UK when choosing a second-hand car mileage and age are often the two major considerations when picking a reliable car. Maybe the data from taxis suggests mileage doesn’t play as big a part in how long a car stays on the road as we think. Perhaps it is just age that is the major factor?

If we look at the number of years reached by cars in the distribution below we can see that taxis do tend to last slightly longer, but on average only by less than half a year. Maybe this suggests there is a limit to how many years you can expect a car to reliably last. But also confirms that age is a big factor in how long a car will stay on the road. Perhaps most cars could do many more miles, but their age is what eventually stops them.

Clearly, age and mileage are not the only factors. Maybe there is something else that allows taxis to last so many more miles. Looking in more detail at the MOT histories themselves gives us a few more hints. For example, if a higher percentage of tests are passed it could suggest the taxis are more resilient to wear and tear or equally they may be better looked after. As you can see the percentage of tests that are passed is nearly identical between taxis and all other cars. So looking at passes on their own doesn’t reveal too much.

However, looking at each test in more detail we can start to see some differences between taxis and all other cars. Regardless of if the car passes or fails each test the mechanic may leave a list of advisories of things that would be good to be fixed, but are not critical to the car passing its MOT. By looking at the average number of advisories per test we can get a more detailed glimpse into the condition of the car. As you can see on average taxis have fewer advisories per test. They also have a higher percentage of ‘clean’ (no advisories) tests. This could indicate the taxis themselves are more resilient, or equally are better maintained. Either way, it could at least partially explain the high mileages reached.


Whilst we can’t answer for sure why taxis reach such high mileages it does show how different certain types of cars can be from the average car. We think this nicely highlights how important it is to be informed about the specific car you are looking at buying. All the data and insights we have collected about cars in the UK are available for free to everyone. Go to AutoPredict and just type in a registration number and instantly get all the related data to that specific car and also get a prediction for how long that car is likely to last.

125 Years of the Black Cab

(Even if it was yellow at the time)

It’s 10.30 on a winter’s evening, stopping at a set of traffic lights, I can just recognise a familiar face approaching through the falling snow. It is Jeremy Clarkson making his way towards my cab’s warm interior. “Sorry Jeremy, I’m booked”, I have to inform him. Pulling away to pick up my fare which was actor Bill Nighy who took great delight at being given priority over the scion of right-wing opinion.

Once, the inside of a cab didn’t offer a warm refuge, far from it, Hansom carriages, pulled by a horse were open to the elements for the cabbie who sat unprotected from the wind and rain and gave scant protection for his passenger. Surprisingly horse-drawn cabs were still to be found in London after the Second World War, in fact, the last Hackney carriage licence was surrendered on 3rd April 1947.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago in August 1897, Walter Bersey introduced to London’s roads twenty-five of his eponymous electric cabs. Affectionately known by cockney cabbies as ‘The ‘Umming Bird’ because of the sound they made, they had 40 batteries strapped under the body, and weighing ¾ ton could travel for 40 miles at a maximum speed of 9mph! The Bersey was almost certainly the first mechanically propelled cab in the world, and curiously like its famous predecessor, today’s latest cabs are now also propelled by electricity.

My first cab, now some 26 years ago, also had very little protection from the elements, it was the ‘classic’ that could have been featured in a post-war Hollywood film with Cary Grant waving it down on a rain-swept London street.

The designers of this Austin FX4 taxi had incorporated some rather novel features. Naturally, it wasn’t blessed with power steering, but to compensate, it had a steering wheel so large it wouldn’t have looked out of place on an ocean liner. The vehicle also had the rather startling habit of swerving wildly just as you approached a narrow road restriction. The rise in summer temperatures, due to global warming, has necessitated the need for air conditioning, which was, of course, absent in the post-war engineering of the FX4. However, another novel feature was included: heating that was continually activated. A clever piece of British technology ensured that hot water from the engine could by-pass a valve meant to arrest the flow, and couldn’t be turned off. Not only were the windscreen wipers ineffective, but careful positioning of the dashboard vent also ensured the driver’s portion of the glass wasn’t troubled by any de-misting air. All these features might have been engineering at its zenith when it was designed, but the problem was the vehicles were still in production nearly half-a-century later. Which made them considerably more enduring than Walter Bersey’s prodigy, his electric vehicles stayed in service for only six years before being overtaken, literally, by the first internal combustion petrol-driven cab, the Prunel.

Another concession for the FX4 to 20th-century motoring was a radio. I suppose passengers were forever complaining to the Public Carriage Office about cabbies talking too much. Today 24-hour Talk Sport radio broadcasting has relieved many passengers from listening to their driver’s opinion of the shortcomings of England’s manager being now replaced by hearing some bloke’s opinion on the same topic blaring out of the radio instead.

The London cab trade is far older than the ‘Umming Bird’, or even some of today’s elderly cabbies. In 1634 the first recognised cab rank was established at the Maypole in the Strand, where St. Mary-le-Strand church is today, by Captain Bailey, a member of Sir Walter Raleigh’s expeditions. Twenty years later Oliver Cromwell, ever anxious to control every aspect of English lives, brought in an Act of Parliament, which set up The Fellowship of Master Hackney Carriages licensing 200 cabbies. That original Act some 368 years ago makes the London cab the oldest regulated public transport system in the world.

It might not come as a surprise to a lot of people that regulation of London’s cabs and its drivers would later be the responsibility of the Sewers Office. Maintaining the city’s pipes and gullies, as well as the paving of the streets, was originally funded from the licence fees of public vehicles, carts, drays and cabs. Today London’s cabs are licensed by the catchily named ‘Transport for London (London Taxis and Private Hire)’, or TFLTPH, formerly known as the Public Carriage Office.

Taken from my contribution to This England Annual 2022.
Featured image: An 1897 Bersey Electrical Cab Rear at the British Motor Museum, Gaydon © Vauxford (CC BY-SA 4.0).

A moving London monument

Along with Beefeaters, Transport for London’s typeface, red double deckers and Big Ben’s bongs, the black cab is a fundamental part of the London landscape. But, as I have noted previously, it may not be for much longer.

Introduced in 1958, the Austin FX4, which was also my first cab, caught the spirit of the age with its combination of timeless proportions and streamlined styling – the cab enclosed in a swooping cocoon, the bonnet tapering to a puckish snout. A scuttling black beetle, it was perfect for a city of black-suited businessmen – as close to a bowler hat on wheels as a vehicle could become.

But it is not only the black cab’s alluring style that accounts for its longevity. Famous for its manoeuvrability in congested traffic, the London taxi can ‘turn on a sixpence’, or within a circle of 25ft – a requirement dating from 1906 and originally dictated by the diminutive roundabout in Savoy Court outside the Savoy Hotel.

That agility made the vehicle an attractive option for celebrities in search of anonymity. Sid James, Laurence Olivier, Stanley Kubrick and the Duke of Edinburgh have all driven their own personal cabs, as have Stephen Fry and Kate Moss. Arnold Schwarzenegger even had a fleet of black taxis shipped out to California.

But the ubiquity of the FX4, originally designed by Austin’s Eric Bailey, was not, particularly due to its success – indeed, it had many faults (slowness, draughtiness, noisy and a heater that couldn’t be turned off). The car soldiered on for 40 years because neither Austin nor its manufacturer, Mann and Overton, could afford to replace it.

It was finally updated in 1997 with the inspirationally named TX1. Criticised by cabbies as looking like a Noddy Car, the TX1 represented the original model’s surrender to middle-aged spread – those corners smoothed out into a streamlined bulge.

The black cab went through two more iterations, retaining the essence of its original self, with flip-down seats, a reassuring engine rattle, and the comforting clunk of the doors. Now progress has caught up with this icon of London, it is now replaced by its prosaic electric successor.

Clipper Cabs

I was brought up by a generation whose mantra was ‘Make do and mend’, so for many of us, this obsession with obsolescence is an anathema.

One company trying to break the new is better mould is Clipper Cabs.

In his quest to parade his green credentials, Mayor Khan proposes to scrap all diesel vehicles from London’s roads. But the taxi industry may have found an interim solution to scrapping by quickly converting more of its current fleet into more cost-effective and environmentally friendly taxis.

The firm behind the technology, Clipper Automotive, aims to turn diesel black taxis into Zero Emission Capable (ZEC) vehicles. One of the company’s founders Janosch Oppermann was kind enough to offer CabbieBlog a demonstration, unfortunately, health issues prevented me from having a test drive.

The London taxi industry has already invested heavily in new EV taxis since new vehicle regulations were introduced in January 2018. Since then over 5,000 electric taxis have been licensed by Transport for London, leaving just under 8,500 licensed diesel cabs still working in the capital.

Although some city regulators have expressed an interest in this environmentally friendly alternative to scrapping perfectly serviceable vehicles Transport for London insists on what is called type-approval that costs a fortune and might include multiple crash tests, even though the vehicle body has already gained approval with its diesel engine.

So there you have it, cabbies will have to drive a vehicle costing north of £70,000, while passengers’ fares will reflect the driver’s overheads. Certainly not make do nor mend.