The UK Taxi Trade


Join the cab trade and you’ll certainly not be alone. The taxi industry is a huge employer across the UK. In fact government statistics 1 are more than quarter of a million cabs across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That works around one cab for every 250 residents across the country.

In many parts of the world a cab is a cab. Here in the UK, however, we have two distinct types of service – public hire ‘taxis’ and private hire cars. Most local authorities nowadays have both types of vehicle, both governed by its own set of rules. Specifics of these regulations can vary considerably from one local council to the next. Wherever you are, however:

  • Taxis – also known as black cabs, hackney cabs or hackney taxis – can wait at a rank, be ‘hailed’ on the street or be pre-booked over the phone (some larger cities now also have smartphone taxi apps). Charging is almost always done by meter – usually so much for the hire plus so much for each mile of the journey. These fees are set by the local council, usually on an annual basis.
  • Private hire vehicles (PHVs) – also known as minicabs – can only be pre-booked, whether over the phone, through a website or a company’s smartphone app. Charging is by a set fee for any given journey. The vehicle operator is free to set these fees and should always tell the customer in advance what the cost will be for their required trip.

Public hire taxis have been around, in one form or another (back to carriages pulled by hackney horses) for centuries. The taxi trade is very well established and is usually made up mostly of individual owner-drivers. The public hire taxi trade tends to have more ‘career’ taxi drivers and is usually known to have a strong voice protecting the interests of the trade. Many areas have an active local taxi association or similar. Some larger cities have organised pre-booking services for public hire taxis, such as Mantax (Manchester) or Glasgow Taxis.

Private hire vehicles are a much more recent phenomenon. It’s amazing to think that these vehicles weren’t officially recognised and licensed, even in London, until 2001. The private hire business tends to be much more dominated by ‘taxi companies’, who advertise and compete to attract customers to call their magic number and handle bookings through a booking office or modern contact centre. Often bookings are organised using computerised despatch systems.

Although the public hire taxi trade has been about much longer, there are actually more private hire vehicles nowadays. In fact national figures show there are almost twice as many private hire cars (165,000) as public hire taxis (90,000)1.

Thanks to its advantages as the UK’s political and commercial capital, London alone boasts 22,000 public hire taxis (which they call ‘licensed taxis’ or just ‘taxis’) and more than 50,000 ‘minicabs’. Other cities with notably large taxi and/or private hire fleets include Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast. However, every town and city has its taxi ranks and private hire offices and even remote islands in the Highlands of Scotland and English Channel tend to have at least a one-man taxi service of some sort. Cabbies really are just about everywhere!

1 Department for Transport and Scottish Government, 2013
2 As 1., above.

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