In the UK, it’s generally safe to travel in taxis. But not all taxi services are the same and it’s important to understand the differences.
London Black Cabs
Generally considered the safest form of taxi transport, but also the most expensive. Black cabs are the only taxis allowed to ply for hire – if the light on its roof is on, you can flag down a black cab on the street and jump in. Black cab drivers are skilled and very knowledgeable about routes. They only receive their licences after passing a very demanding exam called “The Knowledge”. The coveted green badge permits them to pick up passengers anywhere in London. (Those with a yellow badge can only pick up passengers in suburban London). Black cabs are purpose built and specially designed to navigate London’s tricky streets. Many black cab drivers own their own vehicle so these are usually very clean and well-maintained.
Uber is a phone app-based ride-hailing service and its drivers operate in most major cities in the UK. Uber drivers must have a Private Hire Driving Licence. They often use their own vehicles, which must have at least 4 doors, be a 2008 model or newer, and be in good condition. Uber undertakes DBS background checks and driving-history checks on its drivers, but there have, unfortunately been instances where these checks have been found wanting. Uber fares are usually lower than those of black cabs.
Private Hire Taxis and Minicabs
The taxis you see waiting at train stations and at other taxi ranks in towns all over the UK are (or should be) licensed by their local councils and operate under Hackney Carriage or Private Hire licences. The process for obtaining licences and ensuring that vehicles used as taxis are roadworthy is generally well regulated. Drivers have to have passed various tests of their driving ability as well as a medical and criminal background checks.
If you’re not at a taxi rank, or in a place where Uber or black cabs operate, and need to get somewhere, phoning for a minicab is the usual option. Minicabs are only permitted to take jobs which have been booked in advance, and it’s advisable to book these through a well-known local operator. Unfortunately, unlicensed “cowboy operators” do exist, so always be suspicious if a minicab driver pulls over and offers to take you to your destination.
The following safety tips are primarily aimed at people who use minicabs, particularly late at night, although some of them may be worth bearing in mind whatever type of taxi service you are using:
- When the driver arrives, ask for his/her name to ensure this is the same as the one you were given when you booked.
- Ask the driver what name the cab is booked in – dodgy operators may pull up and pretend they are your cab – if they don’t know your name you’ll know something’s not right.
- Check the car over quickly before you get into it – if it isn’t clean and well-presented you don’t have to get in.
- Once you’re inside, check the driver’s ID. Every legitimate cab will have the driver’s ID prominently displayed, so check that the photo bears at least a passing resemblance to your driver.
- If you’re travelling alone, it’s a good idea to sit directly behind the driver. Two reasons for this – 1. It makes it impossible for the driver to overpower you, and 2. You’re away from the kerb, making it harder for someone on the pavement to open the door and snatch your bag.
- If you get into conversation with the driver, it’s best not to give out any personal information.
- If you have any concerns, discreetly take a photo of the driver’s ID badge on your mobile phone and send it to a friend.
- If at any point in the journey you feel uncomfortable, ask the driver to stop and let you out. Pay the full fare and take another taxi.
- Always have your house keys ready as you near your home (assuming this is your final destination) – you don’t want to be fumbling around looking for them after you’ve paid the driver. The less time you’re alone and vulnerable outside (or near) your house, the better.
- It may be advisable not to get dropped off right outside your house, as you probably don’t want your driver to know where you live. Ask to be dropped off a little way away from your house, if you’re not concerned about the extra walk
TfL Resources (For Taxi Travel in London)
The Transport for London (TfL) website has a handy Licence checker – Transport for London (tfl.gov.uk). This is very useful if you want to check whether a cab driver’s licence is genuine. TfL’s Find a taxi or minicab – Transport for London (tfl.gov.uk) page is also useful – it explains some of the ways you can find a taxi or minicab.