Taxi trivia

Remember: A taxi wil only pick you up if its orange light is on

IN 1654, Oliver Cromwell authorised The Fellowship of Hackney Coachmen, and disbanded it three years later because it was too powerful.

The cabbie’s licence is issued for three years – wearing a metal badge showing the licence number has been compulsory since 1843.

The difference between a ‘taxi’ and a ‘cab’ is that a taxi has a taximeter. It’s often claimed the taximeter was invented by German Baron von Thurn und Taxis – descendant of the Italian Tasso (meaning ‘badger’) family. In fact, it was Wilhelm Bruhn and the word comes from French: ‘taxi’ meaning ‘tax’ and metre. They have been compulsory since 1907.

‘Hackney’ also comes from French: ‘Haquenée’ is a horse for hire (these worn-out beasts also give us the word ‘hack’ for a writer of cliches).

The Thames watermen, threatened by the arrival of the hackney coach, not to mention the sedan chair in the 1630s, had cabs banned from London unless their journeys ended two miles from the river. (They also fought against the building of London’s bridges.)

A cabriolet is a two-wheeled, one-horse carriage, which again comes from the French – based on ‘ cabriole’ or ‘caper, because of the bouncing movement of the vehicle. Fitted with a taximeter, ‘taximeter cabriolet’ became ‘taxicab’.

The first hackney cabriolets were introduced in 1823. Painted yellow, 12 of them stood at a stand in Portland Street. London’s last horse-drawn cab licence expired in April 1947.

It has never been the law for a taxi to carry a bale of hay in his boot to feed his horse. This is a hoary old chestnut, distorting a regulation that fined cabbies 20-shillings for spreading feed on the road for their steeds – thereby creating a mess.

There is also no law saying a cab must be black – drivers can have them in any colour but few spend the extra to order them in anything other than the standard black.

There is one surviving hansom cab in London – owned by the Sherlock Holmes Museum. It is currently banned from Royal parks because of a prohibition on commercial vehicles. The ban doesn’t apply to taxis. (See

The language of cabbies was so foul that Queen Anne laid down a fine for five shillings for abusive language in the 1700s.

London’s first motor cabs were the electric Berseys, nicknamed ‘Hummingbirds’ from the noise they made. Introduced in 1897, they proved unreliable and were gone from the streets by 1900.

London Taxis International introduced the modern TXI in 1997.

In 2006 the TX4 replaced the unpopular Ford-engined TXII, powered by a more powerful turbocharged diesel engine. It was called the TX4, rather than TXIII, as it meets Euro 4 emission regulations. The TX4 is exempt from emissions-based charging, even though it is over the 225g/km limit above which ‘Chelsea tractors’ faced a £25 fee to enter central London.

Following pressure from van-makers, the Public Carriage office ruled in 2006 in favour of retaining the 25ft turning circle rule.


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