Tag Archives: London cabs

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.

The world’s most luxurious cab

Occasionally here at CabbieBlog, we bring interesting cab conversations. Situated on St. John’s Wood roundabout, and passed by thousands of cabbies every day, Clive Sutton has produced the ultimate cab. Dubbed the world’s most luxurious black cab, the Sutton VIP LEVC Taxi starts at £104,680, with the fully-loaded vehicle costing £121,480.

Fitted out to your specifications, among those offered include automatic push-button door closing mechanisms used by Rolls-Royce, leather-clad reclining seats, a drinks fridge, sunroof with blinds, 20″ TV screen, electric footrests, ambient multi-colour mood lighting and for London’s inclement weather – matching umbrellas.

Now, where’s my wallet . . .

Where to Now, Gov?

Last January I wrote Parting company with TfL, laying out the demise, as I saw it, of the London black cab.

Little did I realise then just how successful Transport for London would be in reducing the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles on London’s streets.

On 1st August TfL published its fortnightly statistics covering the number of vehicles and licences in service on London’s streets.

The previous week there was a decrease of 20 licences (22 surrendered and 2 issued}, while 13 vehicles were taken off the road and 14 new vehicle licenses issued.

On the face of those figures not much seems any different from any previous week in August.

Until you drill down to the cumulative figures. Comparison with 10 years ago show a very different story: 2011: 22,558 vehicles (2021: 13,461), all London drivers’ licences 2011: 21,499 (2021: 18,341). Private hire record an even more dramatic change with operators numbering 3,111 in 2011 (2021: 1,955) and drivers recording a dramatic rise to 61,200 in 2011 (2021: 105,329).

All this has not gone unnoticed in the national press. The Daily Telegraph ran a piece by Oliver Gill, their chief business correspondent with the headline ‘Black cab slump to the lowest level since 1983 as a quarter of drivers quit’.

The transport union RMT have called on ministers to work with London Mayor Sadiq Khan to introduce emergency support measures following Department of Transport figures showing a catastrophic 29 per cent drop in the number of licensed vehicles, the lowest since 1983. From that, they extrapolated there has been a drop of more than 5,000 wheelchair accessible vehicles operating in the capital.

So there you have it. Get caught on a TfL vehicle without a face mask, and a valid excuse, you get fined or refused transportation. Find yourself in the vulnerable position of needing some kind of aid (wheelchair accessibility, low steps or swivel seats), and I’m afraid you’ll have to wait some considerable time.

Camper Cab

Occasionally on CabbieBlog we post about London cab conversations, among those featured have been a pirate ship, ice cream vendor and coffee barista, however, today’s must be one of the most innovative.

There’s an apocryphal story of an old cabbie that would sleep in Heathrow Airport’s feeder rank sitting in the back of his cab hunched over a primus stove cooking his full English. A Carriage Officer who had the duty to make sure all drivers obeyed the regulations, would turn a blind eye to somebody having forty winks but a fry-up was just a dangerous step too far.

London black cab maker, LEVC has taken this a step further and designed a tiny electric camper van converted from the latest hybrid black cabs in London.

The company is aiming at eco-conscious campers looking for a camper van that is small, easy to drive, and protect the environment, although at £74,700 it won’t protect your wallet.

The new pop-up roof model, which sleeps four, is powered by the same configuration as the original cab. A 31kWh battery and electric motor provide up to 60.9 miles of zero-emission travel. Should you have wide aspirations of travel a three-cylinder petrol engine continues to supply power to the electric motors driving the wheels, enabling a total journey of 304 miles. The vehicle also boasts of the famous 25ft turning circle.

Assuming Transport for London licence the vehicle for public hire the cabbie that doesn’t want, or can’t, go home can enjoy front seats rotating 180 degrees, providing a living-room setup. The rear seats fold down to a double bed while extending the roof gives space for two to sleep in the raised section.

Should the cabbie want a ‘full English’ breakfast, the rear section of the cabin includes an electric kitchenette, a folding table and a second-row bench seat that folds into a bed. It makes those cabbie green shelters look spacious in comparison.