When it comes to exploring London, you’ve got a lot of options – the Underground (Tube), by bus, by bike, or on foot –, but that also might make you feel completely overwhelmed figuring out how to get from one part of the city to another. While I’ve got a list of helpful London apps that include some which are very handy for getting oriented and planning routes between London’s top sights, there is one form of travel in London that often gets overlooked: London black cabs.
Almost as ubiquitous as the Tube’s iconic logo and red double-decker buses, black London cabs are a great – albeit less budget-friendly – way to get around the city. However, they do operate a bit differently than cabs in other cities, so it’s helpful to know what you’re in for before you hail one.
Below you’ll find a guide to different cab and taxi options in London (beyond the standard black cab), as well as a step-by-step guide for using London’s black cabs – from hailing to paying. You’ll also learn about The Knowledge, which I think is one of the coolest parts of the London cab experience. Ready to stick out your hand in London with confidence? Read on!
Black Cabs & Minicabs, Explained
At a glance, black cabs and minicabs might not seem to pose major differences, except for the color and fares. However, there’s more to know than just that. Knowing the difference between these two is crucial to understanding how to use London black cabs during your stay.
Also called hackney carriages, black cabs are just like any other taxi in the world, but with a distinctive shape and black color instead of yellow. Black cabs work with metered fares that the Transport for London department regulates and sets. There is a minimum charge of £3.20.
However, additional charges apply when you take a black cab from Heathrow, book by telephone, and on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. The most important thing to notice is that black cabs are the only vehicles that can pick up customers off the street.
Private hire covers a wider range of vehicles. You find chauffeur and executive cars, limousines, and minicabs in this category. London minicabs look like standard cars and are a more affordable alternative to the black cab.
They are not on a meter, and the driver gives you a distance-based fare estimate before your journey starts (unless you’ve pre-agreed a fixed fare). The main difference with black cabs is that minicabs can’t pick up passengers off the street, and customers must pre-book them through a TfL-licensed private hire operator.
Fascinating Facts About London Black Cabs
Before we dive into the logistics of how to use London black cabs, let’s have a little fun and learn about what makes them unique. Here are five fascinating facts about London black cabs.
- Their drivers know London like the back of their hand. Unlike most cities, black cab taxi drivers must pass the world-famous Knowledge of London. The test requires them to study and memorize 25,000 London streets within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. Drivers also have to develop quick thinking and know the most direct route for your journey.
- London black cabs are manufactured in Coventry, which might explain why they’re ubiquitous as soon as you step out of Coventry station.
- London black cabs are purpose-built vehicles whose shape and design facilitate their navigation through London’s tricky streets. They also have creative seats inside to fit up to five passengers in the back.
- Despite their name, they don’t have to be black nor boast the traditional shape associated with London cabs.
- Their predecessors date back to the 17th Century. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the real Hackney coaches were elegant trimmed horse-drawn carriages. Allegedly, wealthy Londoners wanted to recover the money invested on horses, drivers, and coaches, so they began hiring them out to other aristocrats.
How to Pay for London Black Cabs
It’s a common misconception that to use London black cabs, you need to pay in cash only. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. To save you from running to the nearest ATM, here’s all the payment information you need for a smooth ride.
First, you should know that all black cabs take credit or debit cards and contactless payment methods. While cash remains the standard form of payment, every black taxi carries card payment devices. The device can be fixed or handheld, but most taxis have it installed in the passenger compartment. Moreover, customers paying with cards don’t have to pay a surcharge on the taxi fare.
How to Use London Black Cabs
If you’re traveling to London in the near future, here’s a mini-guide to learn how to use London black cabs like a true Londoner, from where you can find them to how you pay the fare.
Hailing a Black Cab
Hailing a cab in London is similar to hailing a cab in NYC. You can just step out into the street and raise your arm to hail a cab. While most people will be looking for a black cab, what will give away that the vehicle is in fact a taxi and it is available for hire will be the yellow TAXI sign on – remember London taxis don’t have to be necessarily black.
Customers can also pick up black cabs from designated taxi ranks in prominent places, including many mainline rails, Tube, and bus stations.
Entering and Giving Directions to Your Driver
Once you’ve hailed the cab, you can approach the front window to talk to the driver and explain where you need to get before entering the car. You can also jump in the back and give the driver your address. Remember, London cab drivers are well-versed in the city’s streets, so they don’t need extra information unless you want to suggest a very specific route.
When I lived in London, my address was relatively new and many drivers struggled to find the building; I would provide them a few extra instructions – but that was the only time I ever needed to suggest anything to drivers with The Knowledge.
Paying for Your Ride
Passengers have to pay the full fare displayed on the meter once they’ve reached their destination. If you’re traveling outside Greater London, you and the driver can negotiate a fare and agree to pay it before the start of the journey. Of course, you can simply ask him to set up the meter and pay what the fare shows at the end of the journey.
Tipping is not customary nor necessary, but you can simply round the fare up to the nearest pound if you want to reward your driver.
And there you have it: a guide to using London’s black cabs (and the other cab types too!). Have any questions about hailing your first London black cab ride? Let me know in the comments!