London is well known for its highly recognisable hackney carriages, the famous black cabs, which can be hailed off the street to ensure a safe and smooth passage for its passenger. They are identified by the taxi light atop the cab, and should clearly display licence badges and the taxi meter.
The other form of taxi is the Private Hire Vehicle or minicab, which unlike hackney carriages can only be pre-booked and not hailed off the street. As many minicabs are standard saloon cars, it is unfortunately relatively easy for unlicensed drivers to masquerade as law-abiding licensed Private Hire Vehicles.
It is illegal to operate as a taxi without a licence from the Public Carriage Office or local authority, and it is illegal for minicabs to pick up or tout for passengers off the street.
Unlicensed minicab drivers often ply for fares around pubs and clubs, hoping for inebriated passengers to mistake them for a licensed cab or be too drunk and too keen to get home to care. This occurs particularly around Christmas and New Year, when the heavy celebration and cold weather makes drinkers prone to rash decisions.Dangers of Unlicensed Minicabs
Taxis that operate illegally are not monitored by or answerable to anyone, therefore there are no guarantees for passenger safety. Unlike licensed taxis, illegal minicabs may not be roadworthy and people travelling in one would not be insured in the event of an accident. As they tend to operate in areas where they know passengers will be desperate for a cab, they may charge random and excessive fares because the passenger might be too drunk, tired, or by this point, worried, to argue.
A common scenario occurs where a clubber falls out into the night, fuzzy-headed and desperate to get home. They may not know where the nearest taxi rank is and public transport will have stopped. Up pulls an unlicensed minicab and it seems like a good idea to hop in. However, often the driver does not know where they are going or may drive the long way just to charge the passenger more. They may drive dangerously, and finally charge a ridiculous amount for what should have been a short and simple journey. Unwitting passengers often feel threatened or sometimes are actually threatened by the driver into paying just so that they can get away. Is this what you want from a cab journey? The responsibility falls on all of us to be aware of how and with whom we travel, and to squeeze out the unlicensed minicab drivers.
It is thought that men take unlicensed minicabs because they do not consider the danger, while women choose them as the lesser of two evils. Women tend to take illegal minicabs to avoid the potential dangers of walking home alone late at night, not realising that riding in an unlicensed taxi is an equal threat.
In London alone, recent statistics show that 11 women are attacked each month after taking an unlicensed minicab.
80% of stranger rapes are committed by unlicensed cab drivers.
Always look for the cab licence number, phone number printed on the side, and discs in the front and back windows to see if it the minicab that you ordered. If you didn't order one, don't get in it; even if it is a licensed minicab. They should not be touting for business off the street.Taxi Safety Tips Always used a licensed taxi.
Plan ahead. When going out, make sure you know how you are going to get back home and who you are going home with. It is better to plan your transport options while you are still sober and have your wits about you. Finding yourself alone miles from home at 2:30 in the morning is a situation you want to avoid.
Book in advance. Pre-booking a taxi will avoid last-minute desperate decisions. Book with a known firm that someone you know uses regularly. Try and find a service that uses text or call-back to let you know when the taxi is arriving.
Keep taxi numbers handy. Keep about three numbers stored in your mobile and keep a separate copy elsewhere in case you lose your phone. If you are out at a venue and do not have any numbers, ask a member of staff to recommend a licensed firm. Do not accept lifts from strangers.
Be discreet. Try not to let strangers overhear you order a cab. If they overhear your details they could pretend to be the taxi you ordered.
Find out the price. Get a quote for the cab fair over the phone so that you can set aside enough money. Private hire minicabs are not required to have meters and there are no price limits, so always confirm the price again before getting in.
Get vehicle details. When booking, ask if they can tell you the colour and make of car as well as the cab driver's name.
Let someone know. If you are travelling to meet a friend, let them know the name of the company, where you are being picked up from and what time you expect to get there.
Make sure it's your cab. When they arrive, ask them to confirm the booking details. Ask who it is for; don't say "is this the cab for ____?" Check their ID to make sure it's from the company you ordered. If you feel unsure about a driver, just don't get in.
Sit in the back. Choose the seat behind the driver as this puts you the furthest out of reach. If a group of you are taking the taxi, ensure that the last person who will get out sits there. Keep your belongings about your person.
Mind your mouth. If you chat to the driver, don't reveal any personal information. Just stick to general topics.
Use your mobile. If you feel nervous, phone a friend (or pretend to). This will make it less likely for anything to occur. If you are seriously concerned, phone the police immediately.
When you have arrived, ask the driver to wait until you are indoors. They should be happy to do this so that you use their service more often.