Taxis, Private Hire and Minicabs in the UK
A taxi is a taxi in any country you may visit in the world, but in the UK there is a two-tier system of taxis that can be confusing for the visitor. If it’s big and black and has a roof light saying ‘For Hire’, it is a taxi. Equally, it could be a car with no roof sign, and it is also called a taxi in that it does virtually the same job, transporting you from A to B.
What is the difference?
A taxi is a public hire vehicle that can be flagged down in the street, or which may be waiting in line on a taxi stance outside a train station or airport terminal or anywhere else the public travel.
Its driver will have been police checked to make sure he is a ‘fit and proper’ person to be dealing with the public.
You need to trust your taxi driver to not only take you to your destination by the shortest possible route, but also to keep you safe on the journey and not overcharge you at the end.
You should always feel comfortable and secure in a taxi.
A taxi driver has to pass a knowledge test in order to be granted his licence, and so you can be reasonably sure that your taxi driver will know the shortest route to take you to your destination.
Minicab or Private hire
The other type of taxi is actually a private hire car, or minicab.
He cannot be flagged down on the street and can only be pre-booked to take you from A to B.
He does not need to have passed a knowledge test and may in fact not know where to go.
The advent of the Tom Tom has been a blessing for the minicab driver as he no longer needs to be lost.
His background is police checked in some local authority areas but not all, and not to the same extent as taxi drivers are.
Murderers and fraudsters have been granted minicab licences in the past, though this is unusual.
More and more in the UK we are finding illegal immigrants taking up positions as private hire drivers.
With limited spoken English, you may have difficulty communicating with the driver.
Not only that, but his background will not have been thoroughly checked out and he could be a mass murderer back in his home country.
The Guardian Online recently reported the case of a Taliban commander fighting in Afghanistan who raises money for his cause by working as a minicab driver in London. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/24/the-taliban-troop-london-jihadists
In fact, it is very important if you are visiting the UK and staying in hotels, that you make sure the staff know that when you want a taxi ordered, that you want a licensed taxi sent and not a private hire or minicab, especially if you are a female travelling alone.
Properly licensed taxis have a far higher standard of comfort and safety.
Taxis routinely have to undergo stiff testing at dedication taxi testing stations, and are immediately ordered off the road if anything at all should not be up to par at any one time.
You will never see a working taxi having worn or threadbare tires, and even failing to carry an up-to-date fire extinguisher is enough to have it taken off the road.
The taxi owner pays a lot of money to make sure his taxi is in perfect condition at all times, and as such will not risk his licence by doing something illegal or harmful to his passengers.
You will feel completely at ease with your taxi and the service offered will be second to none.