A Guide to Using London Minicabs
If you live or work in London, there is a high likelihood you will have ridden in a London minicab. The city is full of minicab companies plying their trade, competing for your custom. But if you’re new to the city or find yourself increasingly needing to book a taxi, the London cab industry can be a bit of a minefield.
What’s the difference between a London black cab and a minicab?
There are two types of taxis in London – the black cab and the minicab. Both types of taxis are licensed by Transport for London and are allowed to take up to eight passengers but they are regulated and operate in different ways.
The London taxi or black cab is a purpose-built vehicle. Instantly recognisable, the London black cab must have its taxi licence number plate on the back of the vehicle. All London taxis are accessible for people with disabilities.
Minicabs can be any type of car. Individual cars and drivers are usually employed by a minicab company. The driver must display a special disc on his windscreen and his rear window to show he is licensed.
Whilst a London black cab can be hailed on the street, picked up at a taxi rank or booked in advance, minicabs can only respond to a booking. A licensed minicab driver is not allowed to pick up passengers on the street.
How do I book a minicab?
There are a plethora of minicab companies in London. If you live or work in London you will probably have a handful of companies local to you that you use regularly. Your employer will probably have an account with a local minicab company if its employees use taxis regularly. However, if you’re new to London or are visiting you may have to resort to a Google search or looking out for advertising cards displayed at nearby business premises to find a local minicab company.
Most minicab companies will have a website and many will even have a phone app which you can use to book a minicab. Alternatively, a look through a local phone directory or Yellow Pages should come up with phone numbers for minicab companies.
Transport for London has a service called Cabwise to help you find minicab operators close to your location. You can download the Cabwise phone app or use the text service to find telephone numbers for local minicab operators.
How much should I expect to pay?
Taxi fares are calculated using a number of different factors. You will pay a flat rate fare before you start and then your fare will increase based on the distance travelled, journey time and the time of day. For example, a five-mile journey will cost more in the late evening or overnight than in the day time and the fare will be slightly higher if your five-mile journey takes 20 minutes because of heavy traffic instead of 15 minutes in lighter traffic.
If your journey is more than just a few miles, you may be able to agree a fare with your minicab company beforehand. This means you won’t face an unexpectedly high fare at the end of your journey if you experience hold-ups due to traffic congestion.
You can find more information about taxi fares on the Transport for London website.
What about safety?
If you’re travelling by minicab on your own or late at night, you need to be aware of your personal safety. As long as you are careful and take certain precautions you should have no safety concerns.
If you can, travel in a group. There’s always safety in numbers. However, if you are travelling on your own you can carry out some checks before you get into a minicab to minimise any danger:
Don’t tell the cab driver your name first – ask him or her to give you the name of the person who booked the minicab so you are sure it’s the minicab you were expecting.
Make sure the company logo on the car matches the minicab company you made the booking with.
Check that the cab has a disc on its front and rear windscreens with its licensing number. This shows that it is properly licensed and insured.
Never accept a ride from a minicab on the street. Minicab drivers are not allowed legally to pick up passengers on the street – they can only take pre-booked passengers. Any minicab driver who stops on the street to offer you a ride is breaking the law. The same law applies even if the minicab has been flagged down by a bouncer or somebody who looks official.
There is a reason for this law. When a minicab is pre-booked, the minicab company has a record of your booking and your journey. If anything happens to you in the minicab, the driver can be traced. If you jump into a minicab from the street, there is no record that you are in that car should anything happen.
Are there any alternatives to London minicabs?
As mentioned previously, London black cabs can be pre-booked as well as picked up at a taxi rank or flagged down in the street. The Transport for London website has phone numbers for black cab companies for pre-booking. Expect to pay a small fee for pre-booking on top of the standard taxi fare.
If you use taxis regularly, you could open an account with a private hire company such as Addison Lee. Companies like this offer executive-style minicab transport at a cheaper rate than the standard London taxi fares. They can be pre-booked up to three months ahead or booked on the spot, when the nearest available car will be sent to pick you up.
Uber has been a controversial addition to the London cab industry in recent years. This multi-national minicab company is an umbrella organisation for independent drivers. Customers can call the nearest available Uber driver, get a fare estimate and pay the fare using the Uber phone app. Uber fares are generally cheaper than London taxi and minicab fares. There has been substantial opposition to Uber amongst taxi operators but the company offers taxi passengers another option.