Using cabs in the UK

Cab information

Once the CabGuideUK app is installed, you can look for a cab:

  • nearest to where you are (if you have location services on)
  • by place name
  • by rail, metro or bus station
  • by airport or ferry port
  • by postcode

This information has been carefully researched to offer suitable cab operators for every place, postcode and interchange in the UK. It is the only comprehensive and unbiased source of such information available. We hope you find it useful.

Taxis and Private Hire: what’s the difference?

Hackney Carriage is the proper term for a taxi, but we’ll stick to “taxi”. The key difference between taxis and private hire vehicles is that taxis are legally allowed to ply for hire in the street, whereas private hire vehicles are not. “Cab” is a word widely used to denote both types of service. “Minicab” is mainly used in London and the South East of England to mean a private hire vehicle.

Taxis and Private Hire outside London

Taxis are often (but not always) London-style black cabs, seating a maximum of eight passengers. Each must have a plate on the back stating that it is a Hackney Carriage, its number, who it is licensed by and how many passengers it is licensed to carry. Drivers must wear official badges.

A taxi can be flagged down in the street or taken from a rank, and cannot refuse a fare without reasonable excuse. However, taxi drivers may not approach you offering you a journey for payment.

Taxi fares are charged according to a local scale, based mainly on distance, usually as measured by a meter. Taxi drivers can agree to charge less than shown on a meter, but are breaking the law by charging more. You can require a taxi to take you anywhere within the licensing area or a prescribed distance, even onto private land. Taxis may take you further, but don’t have to. Charges may be made for telephone bookings and certain extras such as luggage.

Private Hire vehicles are usually saloon cars, estate cars of MPVs carrying up to eight passengers. Each must have a plate on the back stating that it is a Private Hire vehicle, its number, who it is licensed by and how many passengers it is licensed to carry. Drivers must wear official badges.

Private Hire (PH) vehicles may only pick up passengers on the basis of previous bookings. Fares are a matter for agreement between driver and passenger(s). If a meter is used, it must be of an approved type and have been tested. Licensed PH vehicles may pick up and put down passengers outside their own licensing district. Any sign or marking that might reasonably lead people to mistake a PH vehicle for a taxi is illegal.

Drivers of both taxis and PH vehicles are checked by district licensing authorities to see that they are “fit and proper”. This will usually include licence, medical and police checks. Vehicles are subject to annual technical examinations, usually going beyond “MOT test” standards.

Law changed fairly recently to make it easier for cabs to operate across local authority boundaries. This was done with the best of intentions. But it has led to an absurd situation in which cabs may be licensed by a local authority hundreds of miles away. Such cabs are, in our view, best avoided.

Legislation governing taxis and private hire is complex. Some goes back to 1847. Nothing within this help system should be taken as a definitive statement of the law.

What’s different in London?

In London, taxis are regulated to high standards by the Public Carriage Office, which is part of Transport for London. Most taxis are the famous “London cabs”, which now appear in a variety of colours. Drivers have to demonstrate a very high standard of knowledge of London streets, buildings and routes before being licensed. This often called “the knowledge”. Most pre-booking of taxis in London takes place via sophisticated marketing networks, most of which accept cash, credit card, debit card and account payment. London taxis tend to serve the central business and tourist areas of London rather than the suburbs, although there are exceptions.

Private hire vehicles (often called “minicabs”), drivers and operators have existed in London for many years but have only recently become fully regulated by the Public Carriage Office to broadly the same standards as in the rest of Britain. Private hire vehicles are nearly always saloon cars, estates or MPVs, and tend to serve the London suburbs as well as the central areas of London. Unlike in the rest of Britain where licence plates are fitted to just the rear of private hire vehicles, in London yellow PCO licence badges must appear in both the front and rear windscreens.

Legislation governing taxis and private hire is complex. Some goes back to 1847. Nothing within this help system should be taken as a definitive statement of the law.

Booking taxis and private hire

To book a taxi or private hire vehicle:

  • select an operator from the list offered
  • telephone that operator, stating:
  • your date of travel, arrival station, arrival time, destination and number of passengers
  • any preference for a taxi or private hire vehicle
  • insist on a cab that is licensed locally
  • any special requirements, such as wheelchair accessibility or willingness to take an assistance dog
  • if you’re happy with the operator, confirm the booking and perhaps keep a note of the details in case your plans change
  • if you’re not, try another operator!

Try to give as much notice as possible. Operators understandably resent “no shows” and waiting for delayed trains. So, if your plans change, please let the operator know.

Some train and metro stations have more than one entrance, so when booking to be met at an unfamiliar station it can be helpful to state the direction of travel of your train or tram.

Generally, no indication is given in the app as to whether the operator is a taxi operator or a private hire operator, since many are both. If you particularly want a taxi or a private hire vehicle, you must make this clear when booking.

Taxi firms are unlikely to accept bookings to collect you from a station at which taxis are generally available at a rank outside.

Using taxis and private hire vehicles

  • Check that the vehicle has a licence plate (or yellow PCO badges in both the front and rear windscreens in London) and that the driver has a badge. If you are unhappy with either the vehicle or the driver, don’t travel. Find an alternative.
  • Avoid using vehicles that are licensed in another area.
  • Don’t ask the driver to take more passengers than shown on the vehicle’s licence plate (or yellow PCO badge in London) – it could invalidate the insurance cover.
  • Always sit in the back and if possible carry a mobile phone.
  • Before setting off, make sure that the driver knows how to reach your destination. If the driver is unsure, ask him or her to find out from his or her radio dispatcher or in some other way.
  • Discuss any concerns such as the fare, payment by credit card and journey time with the driver before setting off.
  • You must wear your seat belt, although the driver does not have to do so while carrying a passenger.
  • Tipping is customary, although not obligatory, and is usually around 10% of the fare. You are legally entitled to a written or printed receipt for the fare and any tip.
  • If you ever have concerns about the legality of a vehicle or the state of a driver, you should contact the local police as soon as possible.
  • If you are ever unhappy about the standard of service, you can take this up with the operator concerned or the local authority named on the vehicle’s licence plate (or with the Public Carriage Office in London).

Disabled passengers

Taxi and private hire operators understood to offer at least one wheelchair-accessible vehicle are indicated by a wheelchair symbol in the app.

Within London, all licensed taxis are wheelchair-accessible and taxi drivers must convey wheelchair passengers on the same basis as any other passenger.

Outside London, legislation is compelling taxi operators to provide for the needs of disabled passengers – particularly passengers in wheelchairs. Many taxi and private hire operators have done so willingly and expertly for years. However, the speed at which provision is being made varies from area to area. So our advice is to discuss any requirements that you have when enquiring or booking. If the first operator you call can’t help, go elsewhere!

Throughout the UK, both taxis and private hire vehicles must take assistance dogs on request unless the driver has a medical exemption certificate (usually because of an allergy to dogs). So we again recommend checking before travelling.

Bikes, buggies, prams, child seats and pets

Neither taxis nor private hire vehicles are obliged to carry bikes, buggies, prams or pets – even if space is available. So once again, we recommend checking before travelling. Of course, most will be happy to help if at all possible.

Although children under a certain age and height normally must use child seats in cars, they are exempted from doing so in taxis and private hire vehicles. Our survey has shown that very few operators will provide child seats on request, although most are happy for a child to use a child seat approved, supplied and fitted by an accompanying adult.

Lost property

Leaving something in the back of a cab: it happens. Indeed, items of extraordinary value have been left in cabs. If you booked your cab through an operator, that should be your first port of call — else the local licensing authority or the police. However, if you hailed a taxi off a rank it could be trickier, since most taxi drivers are self-employed. Most will hand in property left in cabs to the police or the local licensing authority. Some licensing authorities will make a charge for lost property. For example, Transport for London charges 15% of the estimated value of the property which goes to the taxi driver. Many passengers have been relieved to pay that for almost priceless jewels left in the backs of London taxis.

Your feedback is valued

As a user, if you feel that a taxi or private hire operator should not be listed in the CabGuideUK app, then please: e-mail us at:, explaining why. Thank you!

Quality, safety, copyright and liability

Although taxi operator and private hire operator information is given in good faith, and care has been taken in compiling the information, Traintaxi Limited does not accept any liability for any inaccuracies which may exist nor the consequences of any such inaccuracies. Traintaxi Limited has no direct or indirect business relationship with any taxi or private hire operator listed. Inclusion of any taxi or private hire operator must not be taken as an endorsement of that operator. Exclusion of any taxi or private hire operator must not be taken as commenting in any way on the quality or probity of such an operator.

© Copyright, Traintaxi Limited 2000 – . All copyrights and database rights in the data are the exclusive property of Traintaxi Limited, of Registered Office 241 High Street, Northallerton, DL7 8DJ, England; registration number 3812928. The traintaxi and CabGuideUK names are trademarks of Traintaxi Limited.