Significance of 'minicab' in the U.K.?

I understand that there are different categories of taxi cab service in the United Kingdom – black cabs, etc. – my question is whether it’s habitual to specify what kind of cab service one might use or has used.

The reason I ask is that I recently read a British novel in which there were numerous references, such as “don’t worry, I’ll take a minicab,” “should I call you a minicab?,” “How will you get home? I’ll get a minicab.”

Here in the United States, we just say “cab” or “taxi,” without specifying the specific level of service.

I found the level of specificity jarring, as if every time I spoke about a cab, I insisted on specifying the name of the service – “don’t worry, I’ll take a Red Top cab,” or “should I call you a Yellow Cab?” Or even the kind of car the cabbie was driving “How will you get home? I’ll get a Ford Crown Victoria taxi cab.”

Is this specification of “minicab” each time routine in colloquial speech in Britain? If so, why? Why not just say “cab”? Why is it important to specify the level of service?

Here’s the obligatory wikipedia entry. It sounds somewhat like how hackneys operate here. They have to prebooked, can’t be flagged down on the street.

Yes, prebooked only. It’s generally much easier to set up a small company with those licenses than what’s required for the more lucrative taxis (hackney carriage licenses), which depending on the locality may or may not be entirely a fleet of black cabs. Even where they aren’t, there nowadays tends to be a few black cabs in operation, to provide wheelchair access.

Regulation of minicabs has tightened up in some respects, for example with many authorities ensuring that the paintwork of minicabs clearly identifies them as such. The tendency of drivers to illegally pick up fares off the street on a busy night, combined with their using normal cars, resulted in cases where it enabled serial rapists to do the same.

I understand that there are differences in service. What I’m wondering is – in ordinary conversation, why the need to specify?

And wasn’t the big serial rapist a black cab driver?

Yeah he was.

People don’t specify. They just say “I’m going to get a taxi”. It’s understood from the context which kind you mean. If you’re sitting in someone’s house in the middle of suburbia then obviously you’re gonna call one (so it’s minicab). If you’re in the middle of central london then you can just go outside and flag a black one down. But they’re expensive so you might still call a minicab out if you know a firm that will come to where you are.

They are different - one you have to call for and one you flag down - so some people may call them minicabs to indicate they’re gonna call one rather than wander the streets, but most people just say taxi same as you.

Gotcha. Thanks for the clarification.

These small differences among English-speaking societies are endlessly fascinating.

Ah, good point, because that’s the one in the news now - and is newsworthy not only because of the severity of the crime spree and because of the police screw-ups, but also because he was a black cab driver, and supposedly all the more trustworthy for it. Regarding the illegal/fake minicab problem, here’s some official figures, from a few years ago: ‘the number of rapes and sexual assaults in illegal cabs has fallen from 212 in 2002 to 140 over the last year – this includes a fall in rapes from 54 to 32.’ Also, the Metropolitan Police have a section specifically titled ‘Minicab Rape’ in their advice to the public:

Strangely, the Dublin usage of “hackney” and the London usage are completely reversed: in London “hackney cab” is another word for a black cab.

Another thing to note is that there is not necessarily anything ‘mini’ about a minicab. It could be a 7-seater people carrier, although more usually it’s a battered 10-year-old Nissan Primera with 250,000 miles on the clock, driven by a recent arrival to the UK with only a vague knowledge of the highway code.

Because in some cases it might be important. Legally speaking, to get a minicab you either have to phone and book the cab, or go to a small office (often little more than a door way in actuality) to make your booking. Black cabs have the legally restricted right to ply for hire just cruising round the streets. Minicabs are substantially cheaper, but some would say you are getting an inferior, less reliable one.

If we’ve just had a night out and we’re standing on the street and need a taxi, we theoretically have two options. We can just flag down a black cab (assuming we can see some), which is easy and convenient, and pay the extra money. Or we can walk to the nearest minicab office (assuming we know one or can see one nearby) and wait until one becomes available. It’s less convenient, but it’s cheaper.

If I have a strong preference for the cheaper option, and if I think black cabs are just ripoff artists, it may be important to make this distinction clear, and to say, ‘Let’s get a minicab’. Alternatively, I might be the sort of person who feels strongly that minicabs can’t be trusted, and so I only ever use black cabs, in which case I’d say, ‘Let’s get a black cab’.

In New York we call it “car service” but its the same set-up as minicab (small local office with dispatched cars). Also similarly, car service are not allowed to pick people up off the street, although they frequently do (and some people use the very non-PC term “gypsy cab” for a car service car that picks up a street fare illegally.)

Car service is generally somewhat cheaper than a yellow cab, but its mostly more ubiquitous.

Interesting. In Toronto, and other Canadian cities, you can call for a cab, or you can signal one passing by on the street. It’s the same companies, people and cars who perform both services.

But the density of cabs is low enough that outside of a few favoured places like the downtown core of Toronto, the chance of one passing by in a reasonable time (say, 15 minutes) is negligible. I have never flagged a cab in Toronto in my life, always called, though I have seen flagging happen.

What does happen is that there are cab waiting areas at locations where there are likely to be a lot of people: subway stations and other transit points, malls, shopping plazas, and so on. Cabs go there when there are likely to be customers. Some of these waiting areas are quite informal, but others have signs and a queue of cabs waiting, and you take the first one in the line.

There is a distinction between “cabs” and “limousines”. Limousines are fancier and have a uniformed driver. At the lowest level, limousines are expensive cabs and perform the same service for a little more money, but form there the cars get larger and more elaborate, until you get to the flights of fancy that take gaggles of students to the prom or newlyweds from the church.

All true, but an additional important difference is that while cabs charge by the kilometer, limos generally charge by the hour. This place, for example, charges rates starting at $75 CAN an hour. Considering that Montreal cabs charge $3.30 to start and then $1.60 a kilometer, limousines can work out to a better deal for longer trips.

One other point about black cabs, at least in London, is that you can expect a decent knowledge of not just routes, but locations and specific destinations, that a minicab driver won’t have. They’ll need a roadname to blindly follow their sat-nav, and certainly will not know the rabbit-warren of shortcuts which can be found in the city.

I did not know this. Shows how many limos I’ve taken…

More than that I find they tend to have an obsessive knowledge of locations and routes. They have to have a pretty thorough knowledge of the whole of central London just to be given a black cab permit (the Knowledge test) and whenever I ask them to take me somewhere they’ll fire off millions of questions…

‘Can I go to Duncannon street please.’
‘Sure, where on Duncannon?’
‘I don’t know… just in the middle somewhere I guess’
‘Opposite the big red building? With the glass front?’
‘Er, I don’t know really, I’m just meeting friends in a pub there somewhere’
‘Oh the Bull & Crown is it? Opposite the post office?’

etc :slight_smile: And to answer the OP in my experience most people here just use the word ‘taxi’ in all situations, like you said people do in America. I’d find it a bit weird as well if someone said ‘I’ll get a minicab’… I’d think the same as you, why specifically a minicab?

I’ve never heard anyone say ‘I’ll get you a minicab.’ The distinction might come up in telling an anecdote, perhaps, but if someone says they’ll get me a taxi I won’t assume they’re going to stand outside and hail a black cab, even though you could easily do so where I live.

Black cabs are sometimes cheaper than minicabs, IME, or the same price; you can also fit five passengers in a black cab safely and comfortably, with more room for luggage.

And at least they’re guaranteed to know how to get to where your destination is. I ended up getting a black cab a while ago because none of the mincab firms knew where the place was that I was heading - they needed a postcode to put in the satnav, or wanted me to give directions, but I only wanted a taxi because I was lost!

It’s a really subtle distinction, and kind of difficult to explain.

If I’m in my local pub, meeting people before going out to a gig or a restaurant or the theatre, we have three choices.

Grab a cab in the street = black taxi. Might not find one, that’s the chance you take.
Phone a black taxi = big company, loads of taxis, one will be along very quickly, but they charge extra for callout and this is the most expensive option.
Phone a minicab = smaller company, fewer cars, may have to wait a bit, cheapest.

So depending on whether it’s a rainy Friday evening at 8pm or not will make a difference in the choice. And the conversation will include “Will we just try and get one on the street?” “Nah, not on a night like this, no chance”. “How about phoning a minicab?”. It does make a difference.

(I’m in Edinburgh, by the way.)

Your friends are that vague about telling you where to meet them – “A pub somewhere in the middle of Duncannon Street”? If one of my friends said that, I’d insist they call back with a more specific location – a name and, if not the exact address, at least the nearest cross-street – or I’d tell them to forget it.

I dunno, Addison Lee have excellent knowledge in my experience. I have their number on speed dial.

Mini cans are often called after a night out, the Underground shuts a little after one, night buses are…an experience to put it mildly. So lets say you are a stupid idiot who lives in C London (me) who spent a bit too long at a place in East London. Call Addision lee, they will take you home pretty well. In some parts of London, I would not call a cab late at night, too dangerous to stand outside.