It may sound like an odd question but, many people who do not work in the industry, do not realise that taxi’s are not all the same.
With Halloween, The Rugby Autumn Internationals, Beaujolais Day, and the party season fast approaching, many people will be going on what are rare nights out for them. These people may not be regular taxi users, and may only use them once or twice a year. As such they may not be familiar with the difference. Even many regular users think a taxi is a taxi and they are all the same. This is not true, and there are significant, and important differences across the industry. Some by choice, but many a matter of law, and legality. Knowing the differences, and knowing what to look for, and who can do what is important to staying safe, and more importantly getting home safe at the end of the night.
Whilst all taxi’s essentially perform the same task. That of taking a person (or persons) from one place to another for a fee, on the face of it, all taxi’s are equal. However, some are more equal than others.
Before we get into the details, lets address the main point here. The word Taxi. By the letter of the law, only a Hackney Carriage is a “Taxi”. No other form of transport is a Taxi. Uber are not taxi’s. The local cab firm are not taxi’s. Personal Class Travel vehicles are not taxi’s. Over the years however, the word “taxi” has become the generic term used by the general public when referring to any form of paid for transport by car. Much like Vacuum cleaners are often referred to as Hoover’s even though Hoover is a brand, and not all Vacuum cleaners are Hoovers. Just because you are paying to be driven in a car, doesn’t mean you are in a taxi. However, for the purposes of this article, we shall continue with the generally used generic word of “Taxi” to cover the whole industry.
The Taxi industry is split up into two very legally distinct, although operationally similar sectors. Hackney, and Private Hire. Private Hire, can then also be divided up into three sub sectors. Standard, Executive, Chauffeur. Whilst there is a very clear and defined difference between Hackney and Private Hire, there is little to no legislative difference between a standard private hire, executive private hire and chauffeur private hire in England & Wales. Taxi & Private Hire Legislation is a devolved issue, like Health. As such the law is slightly different in Scotland for Private Hire. Welsh Government have the power to change the legislation in Wales, but to date have chose not to. Until they do, the law for Taxi & Private hire will remain the same in England & Wales.
Differences – Hackney – Private Hire
So what are the differences between Hackney & Private Hire?
This is the traditional taxi. Legally only a Hackney Carriage can be called a Taxi. Only a Hackney Carriage is allowed to pick passengers up on the street, known as Plying for Hire. Only Hackney Carriages are allowed on park on a Taxi Rank, have a roof light on, or display any thing that might indicate they are available for hire. As well as being allowed to ply for hire, Hackney Carriage Drivers, can also accept bookings from an Operator, and take bookings themselves over the phone. They can not give a booking to another driver however, unless the driver is another Hackney Carriage Driver.
Whilst being granted a lot of freedom and being able to do things no other taxi can do, they are highly regulated and controlled. There are certain things a Hackney Carriage CAN NOT do however.
Councils set the tariff for Hackney Carriages, often referred to as “The Council Hackney Tariff”. All Hackneys must have an approved and calibrated taximeter installed. This MUST be used for all journeys within the council where the Hackney is licenced, and the driver can not ask for more than is on the meter at the end of the journey. If the journey ends outside the licenced area, then a fee can be agreed before hand. If no fee is agreed, then the meter must be used, and the driver can not charge more than the meter says at the end of the journey.
A Hackney Carriage, can only ply for hire, and park on a rank in the council it is licenced by. They may pick up passengers outside the council they are licenced by, but this must be booked through a licenced private hire operator. If a Hackney Carriage picks up a fare from the road, outside of where they are licenced, this is a criminal offence. The driver is not insured for the journey.
A Hackney Carriage must have a Hackney Carriage Licence Plate fixed to the rear of the vehicle, and most councils also issue some form of window licence, which must also be displayed. Exactly what is on the licence plate will vary council to council. However most will have; Vehicle Registration, Make, Model, Colour, Licence Number, Licence Expiry Date, and the issuing council.
Many councils require all Hackney Carriages to have a certain colour, or be of a certain type of vehicle. Such as a purpose built Hackney Carriage like a “London Black Cab”. Cardiff Council require all Hackneys to be Black with a White Bonnet. Newport Council require them to be black and purpose built. Vale of Glamorgan state they must all be White, with a Black Bonnet
Officially, Hackneys are only allowed to park and ply for hire on designated ranks. There is a great deal of leeway granted by many councils, with a number of “unofficial” ranks in various places. Hackney Carriages are not allowed to park illegally to wait for a fare. Whilst parked on a rank (official or unofficial) a Hackney is not allowed to refuse a fare, without a legitimate reason. The journey being too short is not a legitimate reason.
A Hackney Carriage can only be driven by a driver with a Hackney Carriage Driver Licence, whose licence has been issued by the same council the vehicle is licenced by. This is not the same as a Private Hire Licence. Whilst these days, most councils only issue a Dual Licence, allowing the holder to drive either a Hackney or a Private Hire Vehicle, some still issue separate licences. In most cases, a council that issues a Private Hire Licence and a separate Hackney Licence, will require a driver to get a Private Hire Licence first. They will then need to undergo additional training and sit further tests before being granted a Hackney Licence.
Also highly regulated, Private Hire have more restrictions than Hackney Carriages in some situations, but also less restrictions in others.
Private Hire CAN NOT ply for hire. ALL bookings MUST be made through a licenced Private Hire Operator. If a Private Hire picks up a fare from the road, or carries out any booking that has not been booked through a licenced Private Hire Operator, this is a criminal offence. The driver is not insured for the journey.
Private Hire CAN NOT park on a taxi rank
All Private Hire bookings MUST be recorded. This includes, Passengers name, time booking made, booked pick up time, pick up location, driver, vehicle. By contrast, there is no requirement to record any details for any Hackney Carriage booking
Generally Private Hire Vehicles can be any vehicle of any colour. Some councils do however have some stipulations. For example, Cardiff & Newport both require a vehicle to have minimum dimensions between door cards and minimum rear leg room, where as Rhonnda Cynon Taff require all Private Hire Vehicle to be white. Some councils also require Private Hire Vehicles to have additional signage stating “Advanced Booking Only”
Private Hire Vehicles CAN NOT have a roof light, display the word’s taxi or cab anywhere in or on the vehicle. They also CAN NOT have anything displayed suggesting they are available for hire on them.
Private Hire Fares are not regulated and a Private Hire Operator can charge as little or as much as they wish. All though many do, they do not have to abide by the local council Hackney Tarriff.
Private Hire Vehicles can only be driven by someone who holds a Private Hire Licence, or a Hackney Carriage Licence issued by the same council the vehicle is licenced by.
Private Hire can carry out work anywhere, so long as all bookings are made through a licenced private hire operator, and assigned to the diver by an operator that is licenced by the same council as them.
A Private Hire Driver can refuse any booking for any reason, so long as the reason is not discriminatory or illegal. A booking can not be refused based on Disability, Age, Race, Gender, Nationality etc
A Private Hire Vehicle must have a Private Hire Vehicle Licence Plate fixed to the rear of the vehicle, and most councils also issue some form of window licence, which must also be displayed. Exactly what is on the licence plate will vary council to council. However most will have; Vehicle Registration, Make, Model, Colour, Licence Number, Licence Expiry Date, and the issuing council. An exception to this is if the vehicle has been granted a chauffeur exemption. A vehicle issued a chauffeur exemption does have some restrictions to the work they can carry out. These restrictions vary council to council, but generally speaking cash cant be taken, and bookings often have to be placed at least 24 hours in advance,. Sometimes the vehicle can only be used for certain customers. To be granted a chauffeur exemption, the vehicle must first be licenced, and then an exemption applied for.
How safe is a taxi?
They are safe. As part of the application process for a Hackney or Private Hire Licence, all drivers have to undergo an enhanced criminal record check that shows up every single conviction and caution an applicant has ever had. Even if they are spent. If there are any convictions or cautions for any sexual offences, the application will be refused. If there are any jail sentences for any crime, the application will likely get refused. If there are any convictions for any violent crimes, the application will likely get refused. If there is a pattern of any particular crime whether conviction or caution, the application may get refused. In order to be granted a taxi licence, the applicant must be able demonstrate to their council, they are fit and proper and do not pose any potential danger of any kind to the public.
Understandably though, some people, especially lone females, are scared of using Taxi’s. Regrettably, drivers have been convicted of crimes against passengers. These incidents are extremely rare however. According to TfL (Transport for London) statistics, in 2019 there was a total of 235 recorded crimes for Taxi & Private Hire journey related sexual offences (https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/safety-and-security/security-on-the-network/tph-related-sexual-offences). Of those 235 recorded, 21 crimes resulted in 20 drivers being charged. 4 of those charges were for rape, with only 1 being a licenced driver. The other 3 were unlicensed fake Taxis (https://content.tfl.gov.uk/tph-journey-related-sexual-offences-2019-tables.pdf). At the time of writing, 6 licenced drivers had been convicted, a further 6 were still awaiting trial, and 5 were not guilty. Taking the 6 awaiting trial away from the 235 recorded crimes, and there were 6 offenders in the whole year of 2019. 6 is still too many, but it does represent a tiny percentage of the total number of drivers in London.
Currently, there are nearly 115,000 licenced taxi and Private Hire drivers in London (https://tfl.gov.uk/info-for/taxis-and-private-hire/licensing/licensing-information#on-this-page-0). In 2019, there were more licenced drivers, as many left the trade during the pandemic so we cant give an accurate figure. However, if we take the 2019 figures for offences and convictions, and the current figures for number of drivers, we can get a rough idea of how likely someone is to become the victim of a crime in a taxi. 115,000 drivers, 6 offenders. There is a 0.005% chance of getting in a taxi in London and being in a car with a potential sex offender. In terms of journeys, this is even harder to calculate. Typically, a driver in Cardiff, will do anything from 20-50 bookings a day. Or around 150-200 a week. That’s around 8500 bookings a year. Assuming, a typical taxi driver in London, does a comparable number of bookings, that’s 977,500,000 taxi journeys a year taking place in London. For arugments sake lets half that to take into account part time drivers. 488,750,000 journeys . Nearly a 1/2 a Trillion! 6 convictions in that number of bookings means there is a s a 1 in 81,458,333 chance of being a victim of a sexual offence in London alone. To put this into context, there is a 1 in 10,000,000 chances of becoming US president if your an American, and a 1 in 11,000,000 chance of being killed in a plane crash.
It is safe to say, travelling in a taxi is a safe way to travel. Despite the obvious and regrettable offences and convictions, the overwhelming majority of licenced drivers, be it Hackney or Private Hire, want to make sure you get home safe at the end of the night.
How to Stay Safe
Despite how safe travelling by a taxi is, you can still take steps to ensure your safety. The main one being, making sure you are booking, using and getting in a properly licenced taxi, with a fully licenced driver. As the figures from London show, 20% of all charges, were brought against someone who wasn’t even a licenced driver. Someone who was pretending to be a taxi. These people have not had the required back ground checks. Under no circumstances should anyone get into a car with someone who isn’t a licenced driver that they do not know. This is the easiest and most simple thing anyone can do to stay safe.
How do you know if a taxi is a legitimate taxi or not though? This largely depends on where you are, and what type of taxi your are using. A Hackney or a Private Hire.
Most councils require Hackneys to all look the same. Either in type, style or colour scheme. This is not true for all councils however. For example, Caerphilly allow Hackney Carriages to be any type and any colour. It is recommended that you learn the colour scheme for Hackneys in your area, or the area you most often get in a taxi.
In Cardiff, Hackneys are required to be black with a white bonnet. In Vale of Glamorgan it is white with a black bonnet. Rhondda Cynon Taff and Newport are both all black. Knowing the colour scheme in the area you are, will go along way to only getting in a properly licenced Hackney Carriage. If you are in an area you don’t know well, and do not know the colour scheme of the local Hackneys, do not flag one down, only get in a taxi at an official Rank. These are usually marked on the road with yellow paint, and the words TAXI painted on the ground. If you cant see the road, and there are a lot of similar looking cars parked together, this is likely a Taxi Rank. Hackney Carriage drivers get very territorial about Taxi Ranks, so if there are two or more cars parked on the rank, even if they don’t look alike, it is unlikely they aren’t Hackneys. As if one of them wasn’t, they would soon be told to move.
This isn’t fool proof, and by no means a guarantee, so there are other, additional steps you can take to ensure you are getting in a Hackney, and not a fake taxi. On the rear of the vehicle, there will be what looks like a second registration plate. This is the Hackney Carriage Vehicle Licence, also known as a Licence Plate. Firstly, make sure there is one. If there isn’t, it most likely isn’t a Hackney. The Hackney Carriage Vehicle Licence will have details about the vehicle on it, the registration number, colour, make & model. Check all these bits of information match the vehicle they are attached too. If they don’t, the licence plate does not belong to the vehicle, and the vehicle is not a licenced Hackney Carriage. The licence plate may have been stolen off another car. Finally check the expiry date of the on the licence plate. If the licence has expired, it means the vehicle is no longer licenced. This could be for any number of reasons, one of which is it failed an inspection, and is not fit for purpose. Or the vehicle could have been sold, and is being used as a fake taxi. Following these steps, can help you stay safe, by making sure you are getting in a licenced taxi.
What if the vehicle is licenced, but the driver is not? How would you know? A taxi drivers licence, comes in the form of an ID Badge, which the driver must wear at all times when they are working. Once you are sure the vehicle you are getting into is a licenced Hackney Carriage, ask the driver if you can see their badge. The badge will have a photo of the driver on it, so check this to make sure the person wearing the badge is the person on the badge. Also check their name, and ask them what their name is. The badge will also have an expiry date on it, so check the badge is in date. If it has expired, it is possible that a renewal was refused, and they are no longer licenced. It may also be worth asking the driver what their name is, whilst holding it. They should say the name on the badge, but if they give a different name, this could be a sign it is not their badge. Cardiff issue Taxi drivers with two badges. One for the driver to wear, and one to put in the windscreen of the car, on the passenger side. If you are approaching the car from the front, look for the windscreen ID, and check the person in the picture is the person sat behind the wheel. Badges need to be renewed every 3 years, so you should not be looking at someone whose appearance has significantly changed, since the picture was taken.
As a final precaution, take a picture of the vehicle from the rear, so the licence plate is showing, and one of the driver, and send these to a trusted friend or family member, so there is a record of the vehicle you are getting into, and who the driver is. Remember, Hackney journeys do not have to be recorded, so if you don’t record it, no one will. If it is a legitimate driver, then they shouldn’t mind. The a minority of legitimate drivers who do mind and would refuse. However, if they refuse, simply refuse to get in their car, and get in with someone who doesn’t mind having their picture taken
If you follow the simple steps, of checking the vehicle licence and badge, and making sure all the details match, and take pictures, you have a very good chance of not becoming a victim.
Contrary to what some Hackney drivers would have you believe, Private Hire is the safest way to travel. In TfL’s figures, only 1 Hackney Driver was charged, and they were found not guilty. The rest were Private Hire Drivers. Hackney Drivers believe this must mean that they are safer. However, as Hackney Carriage journeys do not have to be recorded, there is an argument that one of the reasons so few Hackney Drivers were charged, is not because they are safer, but because they are harder to identify and track down. As Private Hire bookings are all recorded, it is extremely easy to identify them, and track them down. By law, every single Private Hire booking MUST be recorded and kept for a minimum of 6 months. The details include passenger details, journey details, and most importantly driver and vehicle details. Additionally, most Private Hire companies also have tracking systems and can track where a driver goes when they are on a booking, including where they picked up the booking, and where they dropped them off.
Where possible, you should use a pre-booked private hire. This is not always possible due to things like waiting time, and location. Generally speaking people do not know when the night is going to end, until has ended. This makes pre-booking almost impossible, unless using our Stand-By Service. So you are left with having to book one when its time to go home. Depending on where you are, this can lead to lengthy waiting times, and why wait, if there is a Hackney available where you are. We aren’t saying, never used a Hackney Carriage, merely use a Private Hire where possible. They are safer.
Even though they are safer, than a Hackney, they are only safer if they are a legitimate fully licenced Private Hire company. Anyone can put an advert on Google, or post on Facebook or Twitter that they are a taxi company, and give a number to ring for one. Just because anyone can do it. Doesn’t mean everyone that does is a fully licenced, Private Hire Operator. You should only use a reputable well known Private Hire Company. This will ensure that the number you are ringing is a legitimate private hire company. Every town has at least one big company, most have more than one. Where possible only use these. They don’t have to be the biggest, but they should be a company you have at least heard of, or has been recommended by a friend. If a company, or person is well known around an area for providing taxi services, if they aren’t licenced, the council and the police will soon shut them down and prosecute them. Simply by the fact they are well known and still advertising, and operating, shows they are licenced.
When away from home, Google can be your friend. For most listings, google will tell you how long a company has been listed on google for, and will show you their reviews. Where possible, always go for a company that has been on Google for at least 2 years and / or has at least 20-30 reviews. It’s not fool proof, but if a company has been advertising on Google for a few years, and the council haven’t shut them down, it’s likely they are licenced. If the listing does not show how long they have been in business, check their reviews. Look at how long ago the review was left. If all the reviews are in the last 2 months, there is a good chance, it is a new company, which may or may not be licenced. Ideally you are looking for a good spread of reviews over at least 2 years. If they are coming in groups, this could indicate that they are fake company, running for a couple of months, then changing names, or stopping operating for a while to evade being caught and prosecuted.
These aren’t fool proof, so once you have made the booking and the car has arrived, you should carry out the same checks as you would if it was a hackney. Namely licence plate, badge and photos.
Most companies these nowadays use a tracking and text alert system to alert you when the driver is on the way and has arrived. We go one step further, and also advise the drivers details the day before the booking. The exact wording will change company to company, but generally a text message will be sent to the passenger when the driver is on route. This will normally have the drivers name, possibly a contact number, and details of their car. Vehicle make, model, colour and registration. A second text will then be sent when the driver has arrived at the requested pick up locations. Sometimes confirming the same details as the earlier text. When you receive a text saying the car has arrived, you should careful check the details on the text, and make sure the car that has arrived is the same as the described on the text. In the last 5-7 years ride hailing apps, like Uber, have becoming increasingly popular. These apps have allowed you to track the driver so you can see exactly where they are at all times, as well as give you a picture of what the driver looks like. When using an app, you should check the picture on the app matches the driver of the car, and the picture on the drivers ID as well.
It is from here, that our advice changes slightly to the traditional advice to stay safe in a taxi. Traditionally, it has been advised that you should ask the driver who they are picking up. Today, many Private Hire journeys are cash less. With payment being made either through an app, or by card in advance. This means that in many cases, the driver is not expecting to receive payment at the end of the journey. Historically, it didn’t really matter to the driver if they picked up the wrong person, as they person in the car would be paying at the end anyway. Today however, it is even more important the driver makes sure they are picking up the correct person, as otherwise they may not get paid. Additionally, because unscrupulous people know most Private Hire journeys are pre-paid or on an app, and the driver is expecting money, they believe they can use this to their advantage and get a free taxi home. So when someone goes up to a taxi and asks who they are picking up, they may say “that’s me” even if its not. For this reason, many drivers, particularly Uber drivers, will not say who they are picking up. They will wait for the person they are picking up to identify themselves. Old, traditional advice was that if you went to a taxi and said, “Are you here for Jane” then you ran the risk of the driver saying yes, even if they weren’t. In todays modern world however, in the vast majority of cases, the passenger will know all the details about the driver before they arrive. This means the driver is known, but the passenger is not. Instead of asking the driver who they are picking up, ask the driver their name. You will likely have been given this by the company you booked with, so you can use this information to check they are the right person. If the company has not given the drivers details, ring them back to confirm the drivers name and vehicle details before getting in the car. They will have this information, as they are required by law to record and save it. To further protect yourself, you can also ask to see the booking confirmation, in almost all cases this will be on an app installed on the drivers phone, or ask them where the journey has been booked too.
Gathering all these little bits of information, and checking them all. The licence plate, the vehicle registration, the drivers ID, the windscreen ID, expiry dates, photos, taking photos, name checking, calling the operator back. They can all combine to make you as safe as possible in a Private Hire Vehicle.
Here is a summary of how to stay safe in a Taxi, whether a Hackney, an Uber, a Dragon, a Personal Class Travel Vehicle, or any other taxi or chauffeur;
Check the plates, check the badges, feel free to take photos.
If using a Hackney in a strange town, use a rank. Never flag one down where you don’t live
Where possible use Private Hire
Check details with the operator if using Private Hire
The next three months are the busiest of the year for Private Hire as the events like Autumn Internationals, Beaujolais Day and Christmas Parties come thick and fast, nights draw in and the weather gets worse.
Almost too a person, everyone working under the “Taxi” umbrella, whether that’s Hackney Carriage, Private Hire, Executive Travel or Chauffeur, want one thing above all else. We want to make sure everyone gets home safe at the end of the night. We will all do our bit to make sure that happens, but the only way we can definitely help you get home safe, is if you make sure you ALWAYS use a fully licenced driver, in a fully licenced vehicle.