Private Hire Vehicles (Minicabs) in London Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Private Hire Vehicles (Minicabs) in London

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Private Hire vehicle

While London Black Cabs are a reliable and safe way of travelling around London, they are not the only vehicles operating for hire in London. If you have the time to pick up a phone and order a hire vehicle there is another alternative, the licensed London private hire vehicle. The definition of a private hire vehicle is a vehicle constructed or adapted to seat fewer than nine passengers which is made available with a driver to the public for hire for the purpose of carrying passengers, other than a licensed taxi or a public service vehicle (bus or coach).

Public Hire and Private Hire

In London, hire vehicles are either licensed for public or private hire. Those that are licensed for public hire are London's famous black cabs which are also known as Hackney Carriages and are the only form of hire vehicle a person can legally hail on the street; they are also the only form of motor vehicle for hire that can legally advertise, display, or otherwise imply, that they are a 'Taxi'. Those licensed for private hire must be ordered before your journey. Vehicles licensed for private hire cannot ply for hire neither can they advertise, display, or otherwise imply, that they are for hire.

Private Hire Licensing

In 1998, the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act was passed into law, after years of campaigning by the London Private Hire Car Association and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, giving responsibility for the licensing of London's private hire fleet to the Public Carriage Office (PCO)1, the same people who license London's famous black cabs.

It should be noted that parts of the press and some members of the public seem to have problems differentiating between legal licensed private hire vehicles and unlicensed illegal taxi touts who ply for hire at many of London's night spots, airports and stations, using the term minicab for both.

The PCO issues three different types of private hire licence:

  • Operators Licence. This is required by any company or individual (operator) that accepts booking for the hire of a 'private hire vehicle' for the purpose of carrying one or more passengers. All Operators must have a licence which should be on public display at the licence holder's place of business.

  • Vehicle Licence. The purpose of this licence is to make certain that licensed private hire operators offer their customers only vehicles that have been passed fit for use. The vehicle licence consists of a bright green circle containing a white diamond located in the top of the nearside front and rear windows of the vehicle. The licence information is contained in the white diamond with a PCO hologram on the exterior side of the licence. All private hire vehicles should have a licence.

  • Driver's Licence. The purpose of this licence is to make certain that licensed private hire operators offer their customers only drivers that have passed rigorous checks (proof of right to work in the UK, passed a medical and undergone an enhanced criminal record background check). This licence consists of a blueish credit-card-sized badge with the driver's name and photograph, an expiry date and the PCO logo in both graphic and hologram form. It should be noted that the driver should wear this at all times when working. The driver-licensing phase of the London private hire licensing project began in April 2003 and finished in April 2006. If the driver is new and awaiting delivery of the photo-card licence from the PCO they will have a temporary permit; this is A4-sized and contains both the driver's photograph and the PCO hologram and is valid for up to three months. If a driver is using a temporary permit they are required to carry it on their person while working and to produce it for inspection upon request.

Vehicles used solely for weddings and funerals are exempt from the private hire licensing regulations.

If you have any doubts about a private hire licence issued by the PCO you can check the online databases maintained by the PCO.

Ordering a Private Hire vehicle

There is a wide range of private hire services available from Stretch Limousines to Blue badge Driver/Tourist guides. There are companies that serve the corporate market, companies that specialise in airport transfers and companies that will pick you up from the supermarket with your shopping and get you home after a night out.

You must order your vehicle before your journey. You can do this in person, by telephone or online or (in the City of London) from an on-street terminal2 (Note: you cannot legally make a booking directly with a driver). Always make sure that you use a reputable company3. Additionally check to see if the company is London Private Hire Car Association graded4 and/or is ISO 9001 accredited. When your vehicle arrives, check for a valid vehicle licence and that the driver holds a valid licence, also check that the driver knows your name or a codeword that you have been given.

When you order your cab the operator is required to take the following information:

  • Your Name
  • Time of pickup
  • Pickup Address
  • Destination
  • Contact phone number

You should tell the operator if you have any specific requirements when ordering the vehicle, these might be things such as:

  • Female Driver. If, as a female passenger, you would feel more comfortable with a female driver, then ask when booking the vehicle. Not all companies will have female drivers available, and if they do, you may have a long wait for one as they tend to be in demand.

  • Animals. Most private hire drivers will not carry animals, so if you have a pet with you, let the operator know when you book the vehicle and they can send a driver that will carry animals; this may incur an extra charge. If you have trouble finding a private hire operator that will take pets, try contacting the local vet and ask them who they use. Guide Dogs should not be a problem.5

  • Smoking. Previously smoking in private hire vehicles was purely at the driver's discretion. However, it is now illegal to smoke in all cabs.

  • Special Needs Passengers. In general, private hire operators, drivers and vehicles are under no more or less legal obligation to accommodate the needs of those with disabilities than any other business, but are none the less willing to accommodate such when it is practicable. It should be noted that a small but growing number of companies now have wheelchair accessible vehicles on their fleet. You should let the operator know of any such needs when ordering your vehicle. In most cases the only extra charge you may have to pay is waiting time if the loading/unloading time is extended.

If you ask how much the journey will cost, the operator is legally required to give you a 'fair and reasonable estimate'. In other words, the estimate should not vary by more than about 10% from the price charged - if it does, ask why. If you're not happy with the answer, complain.

How Much Do They Cost?

There is no central regulation of fares, and licensed London private hire vehicles are not allowed by law to have a meter. Private hire vehicles are not always cheaper than black cabs, it will depend on the journey, the time of day and the type of vehicle you order as to which is the cheapest. Always remember that different companies charge different rates - just because you paid one price going to your destination doesn't mean you will pay the same on the return journey if you use a different company. Companies also use different methods of charging; some charge by the mile, some by postcode and yet others operate a zoning system. It is a very good idea to get an estimate when you order the vehicle.

The central London Congestion Charge should not affect the price you pay, as licensed London Private Hire Vehicles are exempt from the Congestion Charge.

As a rule of thumb, expect to pay a minimum charge which should include the first mile and a fixed rate for each further mile, remembering that the closer you are to central London the higher the fare will most likely be. Always ask for an estimate when you order a cab. Note that not all private hire companies take credit cards or cheques, so if you intend to pay by either of these, check that the company accepts them before ordering.

Additional charges are also made for estate cars, MPVs6 and executive vehicles. If you order one of these vehicles, expect to pay about normal fare plus half fare. Charges will also be made for waiting time (expect five minutes to be charged at the equivalent of one mile). Always remember that you tend to get what you pay for - if a company is charging a bargain rate, ask yourself why. Similarly, if the price seems over the top it might be wise to ask why and perhaps try another company.


Most private hire vehicles are normal family sized saloons so be sensible about luggage. If you need an estate car or a second vehicle to accommodate your luggage, order one and also bear in mind that most MPVs have very limited luggage space. Providing that your luggage will fit in the boot of a normal family sized saloon, you should not be charged any extra for it.

If You Are in an Accident

Private hire drivers are required to have 'Hire and Reward' insurance. If you are involved in an accident, take the driver's insurance details. If there is a problem, the private hire operator7 is required to keep copies of the driver's insurance documents.

If you Have a Complaint

If you're not happy with the service offered, then complain. Unless it is a minor complaint, don't bother complaining to the driver; you should complain to the operator through which you booked the cab. If you're not happy with the response you get from the operator, then you can complain to the Public Carriage Office. You can do this in person or by post or e-mail - you can find out how to do this at the Private Hire Licensing complaints section of the Public Carriage Office web site. In an emergency, call the police.

If you repeatedly get poor service from the company you use - use another company, there is no shortage of choice.

And Finally

Despite the cautionary note of some of this article, remember that in general private hire vehicles provide a safe and reliable service.

TaxisTravelling in LondonFirst licensed minicabs on streetsCity hails new minicab machinesLondon Private Hire Drivers AssociationPrivate Hire licensing
1A division of Transport For London (TFL).2Public Call Terminals, located throughout the City, will operate from 6.30pm to 5.00am and are linked to a reputable licensed private hire company. More information can be found on the City of London Police website.3A comprehensive register of licensed operators is available for public inspection at the Public Carriage Office. They can be found at 15 Penton Street, London N1 9PU, weekdays between 9.00am and 4.00pm. A copy of the register should be on display to the public at their operating centre and you can also check the list of licensed private hire companies online.4Companies are graded from 1 to 5 stars, with special status 'caps' awards for companies able to demonstrate Executive and Chauffeur services. Only Graded Companies can use the London Private Hire Car Association 'Safe in Our Hands' logo on publicity material.5The carriage of guide dogs is covered by The Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs etc.) Act 20026Multi-Purpose Vehicles, cars that take more than four passengers in addition to the driver.7The private hire operator is the company you ordered the cab from.

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