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Why can London black cabs pick up off the street, but Uber and other minicabs can’t?



London's iconic black cab taxis have long been a symbol of the city's bustling streets. These traditional taxis have the unique ability to pick up passengers who hail them directly from the streets, setting them apart from their modern-day counterparts, such as Uber. But have you ever wondered why this distinction exists?


The answer lies in the plying-for-hire regulations that govern the operations of London's taxis and private hire vehicles, which Uber drivers fall under. Let's delve deeper into these rules to understand why black cabs hold the exclusive privilege of street pickups.

In London, licensed black cab drivers undergo rigorous training and testing to obtain the coveted "London Taxi Driver Knowledge" qualification. This comprehensive exam ensures they possess an in-depth understanding of London's streets, landmarks, and routes. This exceptional knowledge enables black cab drivers to navigate the city efficiently and provide a high standard of service.


Specifically, black cab drivers abide by a regulation known as the "plying-for-hire". Plying-for-hire means that black cabs can legally pick up passengers who hail them from the street without a prior booking. This historically granted privilege allows black cabs to roam the city, proactively searching for customers needing a ride. Their iconic "for hire" sign illuminates when the taxi is available, signalling to potential passengers that they're ready to be hailed.


On the other hand, private hire vehicle drivers working under Uber do not possess the same plying-for-hire privileges. As private hire operators, Uber drivers can only take bookings through the Uber app in advance. They are strictly prohibited from picking up passengers directly from the street like black cabs can. This difference primarily effects insurance regulations that private hire drivers must adhere to.

To validate their insurance coverage, private hire drivers' vehicle insurance policies require them to have a pre-arranged booking with the operator when picking up passengers. As a result, Uber drivers and other private hire drivers cannot spontaneously pick up fares from the street without violating insurance requirements.


It's important to note that minicab drivers in London must obtain a private hire vehicle (PHV) licence, ensuring they undergo basic background checks and adhere to specific safety standards set by Transport for London (TfL).


The distinction between black cabs and Uber lies in the historical framework and the differing regulations imposed on them. While black cabs use their extensive knowledge of London's streets to serve passengers on demand, Uber drivers must rely on the app feeding them pre-booked work to provide transportation services.

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