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200 NOT OUT: The licensed London taxi celebrate 200 years

The London taxi, a symbol of the city's history and culture, celebrates its 200th anniversary this year.

London's black cabs are one of the most iconic symbols of the city, along with the red phone boxes and the double decker buses. But how did they come to be, and what is their history?

Way before the first licensed hackney cab in London were the horse-drawn coaches that appeared in Tudor times, when wealthy citizens would rent out their carriages to earn some money. The first licensed London taxi appeared on the streets in 1823. By the mid-1800’s there were thousands of hackney coaches on the streets of London, charging an average price of 8 shillings for a ride.

The hackney coaches then faced competition from new types of carriages that arrived from France: the cabriolets. These were lighter, faster and cheaper than the hackney coaches, and gave rise to the modern word 'cab'. Another popular model was the Hansom cab, which had two wheels and a driver standing in the back. The Hansom cab was elegant and agile, but also prone to accidents. A four- wheeled carriage called the Clarence, or 'the growler', was more suitable for carrying luggage and larger groups of passengers.

The advent of the automobile industry brought a revolution to the cab business in the 20th century. The first electric cabs appeared in London in 1897, but they were soon withdrawn due to technical errors and road accidents. Petrol cabs took over instead, and by 1908, the first motorised cabs were licensed in London. These cabs had to meet certain standards of design and performance, such as having a turning circle of 25 feet (7.6 metres), which is still required today.

The meters that measure the fare based on distance and time were introduced in 1907, after a long dispute between cab drivers and authorities over how to regulate prices. The meters were initially mechanical, but later became electronic. The fare system has changed over time, with different tariffs for different times of day in operation.

The most iconic model of London's black cabs is the Austin FX4, which was introduced in 1958 and became the standard for

almost 30 years. It had a distinctive shape and colour, and could seat up to five passengers. The FX4 was replaced by the TX series in 1997, which had more modern features such as air conditioning and wheelchair access. The latest model is the TX5, which is electric and hybrid, and aims to reduce emissions and noise pollution.

London's black cabs are more than just vehicles; they are a city’s identity on wheels.


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