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MISREPORTED: Why the media and public MUST understand the differences between taxis and private hire

Updated: Feb 20, 2023



The blurred lines between taxi and private hire vehicles (PHV) have never been greater given the arrival of app booking services, but the principles have never changed.

For many in the media and the general public its become easy to call all vehicles you hail or book via an app a taxi. This is however incorrect and in some cases dangerous to assume.

For many years the word ‘minicab’ was handed to PHVs who operated out of physical basis in the local community. The public and journalists did use this this term, but a local minicab operators disappeared, so did the word minicab.

It’s important that the media, and the public, understand the difference between taxis and PHV. There is usually great distain from those working in the industry when journalists use the description ‘taxi driver’ in a negative fashion, when in fact the driver was behind the wheel of Toyota Prius working via a PHV operator. The same scenario could also be applied vice versa.


So, lets first nail down the terminology. A ‘taxi’ is also traditionally known as a Hackney Carriage, taxicab or a ‘black cab’. A PHV is also know as minicab, ride-hail or by its operators name i.e. an ‘Uber’ or a ‘Bolt’.

One of the key differences between the two vehicles is that a PHV, unlike a taxi, cannot ply for hire, which means that all journeys must be pre-booked in advance through a licensed operator.


It is an offence for PHVs to pick up passengers from any location unless pre-booked. Local councils can, if they wish, also regulate the fares charged by taxis, whereas there is no power to do so with PHVs.

Only taxis can operate from taxi ranks located at train stations and other key places of interest within the region they are licensed. Taking a PHV off the street, without prior booking, will be uninsured and illegal.


Taxis will all offer a fare tariff set by the local licensing authority. Taxi drivers do not set the fare price, but can charge under the metered price of a journey.


PHV prices are set by the driver’s Operator. All bookings MUST go through the Operator and not the driver. Some of the UK’s biggest Operators include Uber, Addison Lee, FREE NOW, Bolt and Ola.


The number of PHV’s licensed cannot be restricted by authorities. The number of taxi licences issued by local authorities can be restricted.

In a recently published Taxi and PHV Licensing Best Practice Guidance paper, the Department for Transport provides the following terminology:


“Taxis are referred to in legislation, regulation and common language as ‘hackney carriages’, ‘black cabs’ and ‘cabs’. The term ‘taxi’ is used throughout this guidance and refers to all such vehicles.


Private hire vehicles include a range of vehicles such as minicabs, executive cars, chauffeur services, limousines and some school and day centre transport services. The term ‘private hire vehicle’ is used throughout this guidance to refer to all such vehicles.”


Is the blurred line recognised and what is being done?


The Department for Transport (DfT) last year released a raft of new recommendations as part of new Best Practice Guidance issued for Taxis and PHVs in England. Within the proposed guidance, a revamp of taxi and PHV signage was suggested to help the public better identify taxis.


There has been ongoing discussions throughout the industry whether PHVs need to be distinctive at all given the nature how they are booked. It is argued that without any form of signage, the public are less likely to approach vehicles looking for an immediate hail, which a only Hackney Carriage taxis can accept. All minicab journeys must be pre-booked via an operator who then pass on the vehicle’s registration details for passengers to identify the car on arrival.

In London there is legislation to stop PHV operators use the word taxi in their branding and company names.


Back in 2018 Uber’s biggest European competitors ‘Taxify’, now known as Bolt, rebranded it’s UK name as part of a strategy to win back its London operators licence it once held for just four controversial days.

The minicab firm dropped the word “Taxi” from its name to help help them meet the requirements set in the capital.


A Taxify spokesperson told Business Insider in December 2018: “...we’ve applied for a licence with the intention of trading under a different brand in the UK to avoid any confusion with traditional taxi services.”

The DfT are now suggesting a similar distinction across the whole of England which could force PHV operators to drop the word taxi from their names.


The suggestion drew support from Transport for London (TfL) who stated in its response to the new guidance: “Section 31 of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 prohibits the use of the words ‘taxi’, ‘taxis’, ‘cab’ or ‘cabs’ in any advertisement for a PHV which identifies the vehicles to a specified address or premises in London. This provision was introduced by Parliament with the primary aim of differentiating London PHVs from London taxis and has been effective in largely eliminating the use of these terms by the PHV industry.


“However, the definition of ‘advertisement’ in the 1998 Act is quite limited which has enabled some operators to use words ‘taxi’, ‘taxis’, ‘cab’ or ‘cabs’ in ways that do not breach the law. This is particularly pertinent given significant developments in technology and means of booking PHVs since 1998.

“In addition to saying that signs on vehicles should not use these terms, we suggest that the Guidance goes further and recommends not allowing the use of these terms in any form of advertising, including company names, website names, app names, etc. (unless the vehicle being offered for hire is a taxi obviously).”

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