Hackney carriages

  • Have illuminated sign on top – lit up if free to hail
  • Can be hailed at ranks or in the street
  • No advance booking necessary
  • Usually vehicle and driver must meet stiffer standards

Private hire vehicles

  • Must be booked in advance
  • Should not have light on top

In some areas it is clear which is a hackney carriage (often a purpose-built ‘black cab’) and which is a private hire vehicle (usually a saloon car) because the vehicles look very different. Things are further confused by people calling both a ‘taxi’ although strictly speaking only a hackney carriage is a taxi.

Hackney cab1

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Further uncertainty is caused in other areas where both hackneys and private hire are saloon cars.


These confusions lead to local authorities and the police spending a lot of resources prosecuting private hire drivers for picking up from the street, especially when taxi users can’t see the point of the distinction. This problem is increasing as people can dial a private hire taxi number as shown on the side of the vehicle on the street there and then, so the distinction between hailing and pre booking is difficult to enforce. 


One of the dangers for taxi users is getting into an unlicensed vehicle, which is neither a licensed hackney nor a private hire vehicle. Over Christmas 2017, 177 cases of ‘touting’ were recorded in London alone. This is especially a problem at night in clubbing areas where there are queues for taxis and private car drivers (touts) lurk around offering rides. Sadly, there have been cases of rape, robbery and assault stemming from accepting such offers. To some extent the use of mobile phones and apps is minimising this risk but it still goes on, especially at busy times.

Boundary problems

Another difficulty in relation to taxis is the issue of the boundaries in which taxis are licensed. This means that a hackney taxi licensed in one local area is not allowed to pick up passengers in another area. This leads to lots of empty return trips, which is not good for taxi users, the taxi businesses or the environment. There is a lot of debate about what can be done about this with some arguing for national licensing rather than by local authorities.

Questions for developing a taxi users’ manifesto

  • Should taxis and taxi drivers be licensed nationally with common standards applied to all (as for buses and bus drivers or lorries and lorry drivers)?
  • Should NATU include the need to end the two-tier system in the Taxi Users’ Manifesto?
  • As long as the two-tier system exists, should NATU include in the manifesto the need for all hackneys to be purpose-built vehicles and thus easily distinguishable from private hire?