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How to Use Black Cabs in London | London Transport Guides

Though black cab costs in London aren’t cheap in comparison to other forms of public transport, they are a great way to get around. We don’t recommend driving in London, due to reasons like the congestion charge and lack of parking. So if you want to travel by private vehicle, then black taxis have to be an option worth considering. 

Black cabs plug the gap left by tubes, trains, trams, buses, boats, bikes and more. While most of these are forms of public transport where you’ll share with others, a London taxi can get you from A to B in private. As such an icon of the city, you really can’t leave without riding in one at least once, anyway!

London cabs operate a little differently from other cities and countries, so it’s helpful to know before you go. There’s also an important distinction to be made between black cabs and private hire minicabs. 

For all you need to know about how to get a black cab in London, read on. Including why you should! From how to call a taxi in London, depending on the type, to how to pay for your black cab in London, this is the ultimate guide to using London’s iconic black taxis. 

For airport transfers to and from London and beyond we recommend our partner Riz of XFA Cars – prebook your transfer for peace of mind. Why settle for second best when you can have THE best. Riz and his team have received outstanding reviews from previous customers (read more here)

The first thing to know about taxis in London is that there are two different types. Black cabs and minicabs are distinguished by the colour, and the way you hail or book them. The fares may also differ. Black cabs can cost more but are more convenient. Not to mention iconic!

Black cabs are almost always the same colour, and the same type of vehicle.

The car is a purpose-built TX4 taxi. These are made by The London Taxi Company, based at Ansty Park in Coventry. The cars are also known as Hackney carriages, named after the London borough in the east, and the cars’ original predecessors were 17th century horse-drawn carriages. 

You can also see a lot of these cars in Coventry, as they’re manufactured there. 

The other thing making black cabs stand out is the way you can hail them. These are the only private vehicles allowed to pick up passengers from the street. You cannot hail a private hire minicab in the same way. So if you want to ride without planning ahead, they can be very convenient. 

Private hire cars can look like any standard vehicle – or even a limousine! You’ll find reliable older cars, luxury vehicles, and everything in-between, in various sizes. 

Private hire minicabs are so-called because you can’t hail them from the street. They’re operated by a range of private companies, and by law you must pre-book them. This can be less convenient than black cabs – but you’ll usually benefit from cheaper fares. We work with and recommend our partner Riz of XFA Cars for prebooked private transfers.

Private hire operators should be TfL licensed, and you can book your ride directly. Fares aren’t usually metered. An estimate is usually given before you depart, or in some cases you may be able to pre-agree the fare you’ll pay. 

Black cab costs are set by Transport for London. Currently, the minimum fare is £3.80 – though you’re likely to pay a lot more than this! There are three fare tariffs, and all journeys are metered. 

The basic tariff one applies from 5am to 8pm,  Monday to Friday. Fares are a little higher between 8pm and 10pm, and on weekends. From 10pm to 5am, the highest tariff applies. 

The price you pay will be determined by traffic levels, as well as how far you go. Put simply, more traffic means more time! 

Extra costs

Additional charges apply in certain circumstances, as follows.

  • App, online, or phone bookings cost about £2 extra
  • Heathrow airport passengers pay an extra £2 to start their journey there
  • For Heathrow drop-offs, there is an additional charge of up to £5.20, reflecting the Terminal Drop-Off Charge (TDOC)
  • Christmas and New Year journeys, made between 8 pm on Christmas Eve and 6 am on Boxing Day, or between 8 pm on 31st December and 6 am on 2nd January, attract an extra charge of £4
  • Up to £60 extra is payable for soiling, as the taxi will be taken out of service for cleaning
How to Use Black Cabs in London.

The Knowledge of London – commonly called The Knowledge – is the most notable thing about London taxi drivers as compared to all others. Nothing like it exists elsewhere. 

All black cab drivers in London have passed The Knowledge – and that’s no mean feat. It covers a six-mile radius from central London – namely Charing Cross station. To pass, drivers must show they know the fastest and most direct route to any address within this area. 

This requires encyclopaedic knowledge of the roads and streets here – around 25,000 of them in total! Paying your black cab fare means benefitting from this, and as the quickest route should always be chosen, it might save you money too. 

There’s no doubt about it – London black cabs are iconic! Taking at least one trip in one – and perhaps a few snaps as well – can all be an unmissable part of your London experience. 

Even hailing the cab is for many people a London must-do. 

Unlike many private hire minicabs, black London cabs have five seats in the back. This means they’re able to carry more passengers than some other vehicles. 

Travel across London by black cab and you’ll have the car to yourself. You only need to share the experience with your loved one, your family, or your friends. Rather than many other commuters and tourists.

Being able to hail a taxi on the street offers the ultimate convenience. You don’t need to pre-book your journey, which is ideal whether it’s pouring with rain or your plans change. 

London cabbies are known for being friendly and talkative. No subject seems to be off-limits for some drivers, who will happily share their views on the Royal Family, politics, sport, and more. It’s best let them raise these potentially controversial topics first, though!

If you want to make conversation, try asking if they’ve ever picked up anyone famous. Yes, they will have been asked before, but they shouldn’t mind! 

Black Cab taxi sign in London
Black Cab in London

When you want to take a ride in a London black cab, it’s as simple as sticking your arm out. First, though, check that the approaching taxi is for hire. If so, the yellow Taxi sign on the top will be lit

The cab should pull over when and where it’s safe to do so. 

You don’t necessarily have to look out for a black cab on the street. Taxi ranks can be found at key spots like airports, or train, tube and bus stations, as well as in busy areas and close to popular attractions. 

If you see a line of them, you’re in luck… unless you really wanted to hail one, of course! There may be a queue. If this is the case, join the line and approach the cab only when your turn comes. The British are very keen on queuing – and fairness. 

Your London taxi has a compartment in the back for passengers, with five seats. Two of these face backwards. There’s also a glass window between the cab driver and you. 

Talk to your driver through this after getting in. As they have The Knowledge, they’ll very rarely need any directions other than the address. Except, perhaps, if you’re heading to a brand-new building. 

All black cabs have card payment machines on board, and can therefore accept card payments. If you do want to pay in cash, it’s worth checking with the driver before you depart – especially if you’ll need them to give you change from a large note!

You can check the fare throughout the journey, as it will be displayed on the meter. You’re liable to pay the cost when arriving at your destination. 

If you’re going somewhere outside Greater London, your driver may pre-agree a set price with you instead. 

Credit cards, debit cards, and contactless payments are all accepted. 

The biggest question on most people’s minds is – do you need to tip a London taxi driver? 

Tipping isn’t fully expected, but it is always appreciated. Adding around 10% on top of the fare is the norm. When paying in cash, you could round up the fare to the nearest £1 or £5, depending on the length of the trip. 

Black Cab in London

Every London black cab will have a wheelchair ramp. No extra charges apply to assistance dogs. Some cabs also have additional accessibility features, such as lower steps, grab handles, and an induction loop. 

For your safety, only hail licensed black cabs with a yellow light illuminated. By law, private hire minicabs should only be pre-booked.  

Private hire minicabs should be TfL licensed. You can check whether they are here

a man and woman standing next to a car
On a Discover Real London black cab tour with Ollie

If you want to take a ride in a black cab that’s unlike any other, then we can highly recommend the black cab tours offered by Discover Real London. It’s a great way to see the sights from the comfort of one of these iconic cars. 

Options include the signature Discover Real London Tour, where you can see all the London landmarks in 4 hours.

There’s also the DeTour for second-timers, a City Sunrise Tour, and trips to destinations beyond the city, such as Bath, the Cotswolds, Stonehenge, Windsor, or even Bicester Village Designer Outlet for shopping till you drop. 

Find out more about Discover Real London black cab tours here (please let them know we sent you over)

We reckon that hailing, and riding in, a black cab is a quintessential London experience! Black cabs are very convenient, as they’re available all over the city, and can be hailed without pre-booking.

Black cabs are accessible, comfortable, private, safe, spacious, and of course iconic. They’re also driven by people with unparalleled geographical knowledge of London. 

You can even enjoy the day out of a lifetime by booking a black cab tour of London. 

For the most memorable experience, don’t forget to chat to your driver during the journey. London cabbies always seem to have a tale or two to tell!

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