Tag Archives: london taxis

Taxi! Taxi!

This remarkable film from the old Rank Organisation shows how much the cab trade has changed over the years. The most obvious difference is that cabbies worked for a garage while nowadays all London cabbies are self employed, and that they learnt The Knowledge on bikes. Other more apparent changes since being filmed is the low traffic levels and the slight haze caused by air pollution.

MegaBooth Taxi

This started as the occasional post about conversions of retired cabs that have been deemed as unfit for purpose by Transport for London.

But I am discovering so many
ingenious ways that have turned redundant vehicles into a useful asset that in all probability this will feature as a regularly monthly post.

[M]egabooth, the longest serving and most recognised photo booth company in the country know a thing about attracting customers. For 10 years they have been introducing innovative photo booth experiences for corporate events, weddings, private parties and retail outlets, creating photo booth installations inside cars: a retro Union Jack Mini Cooper; 1960s flower power Beetle; and the iconic London Taxi.

Megabooth have transformed the traditional indoor photo booth into a social media selfie experience attracting the likes of MTV, News International, River Island, Topshop, Primark, Tesco and Waitrose.

Their ‘Classic Black Taxi Photo Booth’ converted from the iconic London Fairway Black Cab is instantly recognisable. Its interior is rather different from what you might hail on London’s streets. Inside the taxi is retro décor with a chandelier, vintage upholstered seats and a grass-covered interior, with a range powerful SLR’s to take professional quality pictures.

The classically styled black Taxi photo booth can be transformed into a branded taxi for sponsorship or corporate events, having working closely with the likes of Time Out magazine and Ray Ban sunglasses customising their events with their signature black taxi.

If you want something more to brighten up your event they have covered two taxis head to toe in graffiti, which they claim will leave many street graffiti artists red faced as it passes them by.

1 in 60

It’s not far away! Soon the London media will be crammed with stories about Christmas: will companies be putting on a bash for a job well done; what to wear; how to stay sober; and that perennial – how to get a cab home.

Transport for London have now embraced your concerns about getting home this year by issuing 1,000 private hire licences a month*, this month next month and every month this year.

[S]uch is the rise of mini-cabs and the relative ease with which to obtain a licence one Knowledge school has reported a drop of 66 per cent in the number of students willing to give up over three years of their life to studying London.

On a number of occasions this year the populace has been inconvenienced by Black Cabbies protesting at Transport for London’s inability to apply the regulations – that the London authority has imposed – evenly across the entire taxi industry. I won’t bore you with the details, much has been written in the media of the pros and cons of flooding London with mini-cabs.

The one fact, taken from official figures, you need to know as we approach the party season is this:

For every sixty inhabitants who live in the capital one now drives a taxi for a living. Yes 1 in 60 now drives a taxi in London.

It’s reassuring isn’t it? That down your street and down everybody’s street there are at least four drivers.

Now if you take London’s official population of 8,630,000 and deduct from that those unable to drive: too young; too old; unable to work; or just too lazy, you are left with a working population of about, say six million.

If you have stuck with me thus far you might question the figures as many who are employed commute daily from the Home Counties into London. That journey might be acceptable – just – if you could occasionally get a seat on the train and upon arrival at your workstation spend a little time staring into the middle distance or updating your Facebook status.

Unfortunately when driving for 8-10 hours a day in a black cab and up to 16 hours a day for Uber drivers, the last thing you want is a two hour drive home. So most cabbies will be found living within the M25 borders.

From those broad assumptions it isn’t unreasonable to extrapolate that with a working population of approximately six million in London, and with official figures of 87,600 private hire licenses and 25,000 cab licenses issued, about 100,000 drive taxis for a living and live within the M25 or about 1 in 60.

Now we can turn to drivers’ suitability. With Transport for London officially issuing 1,000 private hire licenses a month, or 250 per week, or, if you like, 50 per working day, it means that every 8½ minutes an applicant – to the exclusion of all those unsuitable – is approved.

You have to give Transport for London credit for their endeavours in ensuring everyone gets home after the office party by managing the herculean task of investigating an applicant’s possible criminal record, National Insurance, working permit, health check, valid driver’s licence, hire and reward insurance and basic knowledge of London’s topography every 8½ minutes.

At this rate of licence approvals by next year’s Mayoral elections, London will have another 8,000 drivers deemed suitable for private hire, which will give you 120,000 legal drivers and an unknown number of illegal drivers from which to choose when you need a taxi.

And that’s something to consider as you stand in the election booth with your pencil poised deciding which candidate to choose.

*The head of one of London’s largest taxi radio circuits has stated that there are between 600-700 private hire licences being issued every week far higher than the estimates I have used in this post. If those figures are correct by the end of the decade Transport for London will have issued an additional 154,000 licences to that already in force.

Campin’ Cabs

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.

[T]his is another in the occasional series of ‘lost cabs’. When we look at the myriad of uses the iconic London cab can be put to once the powers-that-be have decided the old girl has to be retired.

Campin’ Cabs have taken the Heathrow cabbie’s idea of an overnight stay to a whole new level. ‘Jaffa’ the orange Fairway taxi [above] has been converted into warm and cosy two berth camper which will legally seat six passengers driving to your campsite. Once there the seats all fold down to create a double bed over 6ft long which can take two sleeping adults in comfort. If there are more of you the Fairway comes with an awning and four
person tent.


The luxurious ‘Ambassador’ features full leather interior and other luxuries including a DVD player and air-ride suspension. Both cabs have a small cooker and sink fitted into the front, heaters in the rear, they can play CDs, have a radio and come complete with an iPod adapter for all your musical needs.

Cabbie’s dead end

Driving a cab in the 19th century must have been a pretty tough occupation, so it’s hardly surprising that George Smith would like to ‘fortify’ himself before starting work, but in so doing history was made in a rather elegant part of London. At 12:45 on 10th September 1897, 25-year-old taxi driver George Smith an employee of the London Electric Cab Company was spotted by a policeman travelling erratically down Bond Street driving at his vehicle’s top speed of 9 mph.

[P]olice Constable Russell 24C watched as Smith mounted the pavement and careered through the front door of 165 Bond Street coming to a half in the middle of the hallway of one of London’s most expensive addresses.

Smith was hauled off to Great Marlborough Street courtroom where he admitted drinking ‘two or three glasses of beer’ before starting work that day. He was fined 20 shillings and staggered into the record books as the first person ever to be convicted of drunk driving.

The hapless cabbie must have though it just wasn’t his day, but his brush with death – whilst driving his cab – could have been the least of his troubles if he had awoken the fictional character lurking inside. For behind the front door of number 165 lived the celebrated actor, theatre manager and owner of the Lyceum Theatre one Sir Henry Irving.

It was at the Lyceum Theatre that Bram Stoker worked as Irving’s assistant and his boss’s manner and the inspired way he would play villainous roles was the model for Stoker’s famous book Dracula. The novel was published just a few months before Smith’s uninvited intrusion.

George Smith’s detour would have hardly been welcome for his boss. In 1897 the London Electric Cab Company operated 12 electric out of Lambeth. Walter Bersey grew his cab fleet to 75 vehicles over the following two years, but their running costs were out of control.

It was an expensive project that saw the company generating its own electricity, while the tyres disintegrated under the weight of the vehicles and needed to be replaced regularly. The company lost £6,200 in its first year and was forced to suspend operations in 1899.

Last year Bersey cab went on display at the Science Museum [pictured] a fuller account can be found here.