March 6 1961, was the day that competition started for London taxi drivers due to a few Ford Anglia 105Es.
Fifty years ago, London’s taxi cab was a black Austin FX3 or FX4, but that was going to change due to Carline Cabs – the pioneer of the minicab.
Carline found a loophole in the 1869 Carriage Act, because they believed that this only applied to taxis that “ply for hire” and their Anglias would simply respond to calls phoned to their office and the job would then be given to the driver.
The 12 Anglias carried 500 passengers in the first week – Carline’s fares were less than black cabs – and drivers gave a better service to London’s outer suburbs. In the suburbs, which is still true today, it is very unlikely passengers can book a licensed taxi door-to-door.
Tom Sylvester then ordered 25 black and white liveried Fiat Multiplas. It was a four door, long-wheelbase version of the 600 and despite being well under 14 feet long it was a genuine six-seater. Renault Dauphines then entered the fray run by the car rental firm Welbeck Motors and they became the public face of the minicab. Similar to Addison Lee today.
Welbeck’s managing director was Michael Gotla. Gotla placed a £560,000 order – an enormous sum of money by the standards of today – for 800 bright red Dauphine minicabs and he planned to sell advertising space on the Renaults’ doors for an extra £75 per week.
Welbeck minicab’s success even entered the toy world with a Dinky model of the company’s Dauphine being produced. Press comment was positive with The Times writing – “The reaction of the hard-done-by travelling public to the coming of minicabs is – the more the merrier!”
On June 19 1961 dialling Welbeck 0561 meant a smartly dressed minicab driver in his beige corduroy suit and forage cap could pick you up in deepest Woolwich or Finchley and drive you in their minicab for only 1/- per mile.
Their professional appearance and better value fares threatened London taxi drivers who had spent four years learning “The Knowledge”– and a small fortune on buying an Austin FX4 black cab.
The Minicab Wars were about to start. FX3s chased Dauphines along Charing Cross Road and, in the “Battle of Belgrave Square”, the David and Goliath scene of a single Multipla boxed in by black London taxis did nothing for the public image of the London taxi driver.
Gotla stated that six of his drivers were beaten and another 15, together with their wives, were threatened and that his cars were regularly damaged.
These reports gained the minicabs public sympathy, but Welbeck’s drivers could pull a trick or two themselves.
They would tout for fares and many minicab drivers still do so in London to this day. However, they tried to get round the law by handing their car phone to the customer and would ask him to book with the dispatcher. The minicab controller would then repeat the same order to the driver.
A court ruling of May 31 1962 stated that some minicabs were plying for hire. They were breaking the law.
The early minicab era was over.
Today, the animosity between licensed London taxi drivers and licensed London private hire drivers, as they’re now known, remains. The public’s perception rarely distinguishes between licensed London taxis and licensed London private hire vehicles which now come in all shapes and sizes.
The public still insist on trying to hail private hire vehicles and the drivers of these vehicles sometimes accept these fares illegally. Passengers on these journeys will not be insured and this is taking work away from both licensed London taxi drivers and licensed London private hire drivers.
Any motoring tradition is still only as good as those who maintain it. This applies to both licensed London taxi drivers and licensed London private hire drivers. In particular, some private hire operators should take more responsibility and have systems in place to ensure that their licensed London private hire drivers do not undertake work which has not been booked through their office. It simply is not sufficient to attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility by claiming the drivers are all self employed.
Private hire operators should have a duty under the current TfL regulatory framework to ensure their self employed driver’s compliance with the laws under which they are both regulated.
In these days of GPS tracking and as most licensed London private hire drivers work with mainly one licensed London private hire operator it is a relatively simple task to do.