History of London Cab – from Hackney carriages in 1600s to electric taxis of 2018.
Did you know that taxi drivers in London have to pass a test, which includes memorising 25 000 streets and 20 000 landmarks, and takes up to 4 years to prepare to?
Today we’ll talk about one of the most recognised symbols of London – the famous Black cab.
Even if you’ve never been to London, you definitely have seen one; London cab can be seen in thousands of movies and millions of news reports and photographs. Officially known as Hackney carriages, cabs for hire started being used on the streets of London in 1600s. According to the most common version, they got their name from the French word hacquenée, which stood for a small horse for hire.
Hackneys were compact one-horse carriages on two wheels, small and mobile enough to navigate through busy narrow streets. By mid-1700s there were over a thousand licensed taxis coursing across the town, and Londoners called them hackney hell-carts for their misbehaved drivers and often bad quality of the carriages themselves.
In the early 1900s the first motorised taxis were introduced, but the classic model line of London cabs started from Austin FX3. It had the characteristic silhouette and the orange roof sign. This model is the reason why today’s trademark color of a classic London taxi is black. The manufacturer of this model was producing it in black by default, and buyers had to pay extra for special colors. Since the car was being purchased by fleet owners in batches, nobody wanted to invest extra into something unessential like color, so the majority of FX3s were standard factory black. These days London cabs can come in any sorts of colors and liveries, but they are still referred to as black cabs.
Several models were introduced during the last decades, including the experimental Metrocab, that can still be seen around London, but didn’t prove to be as popular and enduring as the FX3 and FX4 models.
The current incarnation of the Hackney Carriage is Austin TX4; it’s a 4-door saloon car produced in Coventry, and although the majority of them go straight to London, some are being used in other big cities of the UK or are being shipped abroad. That’s right – although nearly everyone knows this car as London cab, TX4s are being used as taxis in several other big cities around the world, including Cairo, Riyadh, Las Vegas and others. On rare occasions they are being used as private cars, for example, the actor and comedian Stephen Fry owns a TX4 and uses it as his personal car.
Design is not the only quality London taxis are unique with; becoming a cabbie is highly difficult, and in order to acquire a taxi license the driver needs to pass The Knowledge; it’s a special test that requires memorising over 25 000 streets and 20 000 landmarks. And not just the names and locations; the examiner can name you random A and B points in London, and the applicant has to say what is the most optimal way of getting from A to B, by memory, without even seeing the map.
Preparing to this test takes 2-4 years, and the majority still fail. Those who pass it, get to call themselves butterboys. And they usually never use GPS navigators or a map while driving. By the way, if you are lucky enough to be the first ever passenger of a freshly-licensed butterboy, you’ll get a free ride, that’s the tradition.
But back to the iconic design of the cab; starting from 2017 TX4 is no longer being produced, and the look of the car that’s been around since early 90-s, is going to be changed very soon with the new model – TX5.
Which model do you prefer personally? Do you think TX5 is a worthy update to the legendary look of the London taxi?