7 things you probably didn’t know about London’s iconic black cabs

London taxi facts

We’re all so used to seeing black cabs on the streets of London and other major cities around the UK, but the chances are you’ve never taken a step back to consider the long and rich history behind the Hackney Carriage.

To save you from digging out the history books, we’ve done the research and pulled out our seven favourite facts about London cabs.

116th century beginnings

A Hackney Carriage is the real name for a London Black Taxi and has been in existence since the 16th century, but of course they were horse drawn back then.

2Electric cabs aren't new

The first motorised taxis to hit London’s roads in 1897 were actually electric. The Bersey Electric Cab had a top speed of 12mph and a battery range of 50 miles. Nicknamed ‘hummingbirds’, due to the sound they made and their distinct yellow and black livery, they were soon found to be unreliable and expensive (oh, how things have changed) and were eventually taken off the roads in 1899.

3Encyclopedic knowledge

A black cab driver is expected to know over 25,000 roads, 20,000 landmarks and memorise 320 routes within a six mile radius of Charing Cross. It can take up to four years to pass the exam – a year longer than a university degree!

4Why do we call them taxis?

The word ‘taxi’ comes from ‘taximeter’ – a machine used to calculate fares based on distance travelled and waiting time. The machine was created in 1891 by German inventor Friedrich Wilhelm Gustav Bruhn.

5They can 'turn on a sixpense'

London black cabs are legally required to have a turning circle no greater than 25ft, which is incredibly tight compared to the average car, which is expected to turn in around 35ft. Legend has it that London cabs were designed to turn at tight angles in order to navigate the roundabout at the entrance of the Savoy Hotel.

6It's not like in the movies

It is against the law to hail a London cab by shouting “Taxi!” in order to get the driver’s attention. Simply raise your arm to signal if a taxi has its orange light illuminated.

7Why are they always black?

The fact is, they aren’t! The Austin FX3, which was the London taxi of choice between 1948 and 1958, came in black as standard and were more expensive in other colours. For a buyer purchasing a whole fleet of taxis, keeping the vehicles in the standard would prove far more cost effective. Hence, black cabs were seen across London. Today you’ll see cabs in just about every colour under the sun and they are often covered in advertising.

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