Taxis and mini-cabs are an easy, if expensive, way to get around a city but using them isn’t without risk.
Unlicensed drivers proliferate, and the reason they are unlicensed is because they probably don’t have hire-and-reward insurance, may not know their way around very well, or may even have a criminal record and are working as a driver to exploit vulnerable tourists.
Tips for staying safe on public transport.
However, it is relatively easy to stay safe when you’re using a cab, as long as you follow our guide!
Black cab or mini-cab?
In the UK, you can hail a black cab in the street, while a mini-cab can only be used if you’ve pre-booked it. Both will have an extra licence plate on the back of the vehicle showing that they are registered and, therefore, legitimate.
Black cab drivers are only granted a licence following stringent exams and background checks, while anyone can set themselves up as an unregistered mini-cab driver. This doesn’t make all black cab drivers angels, or all mini-cab drivers villains, but if I were to undertake a risk assessment then I know who I’d use.
Personal safety tips for motorists.
Beware of touts
Touts who ply for business late at night and around the main tourist attractions plague every big city in the world. All will claim to offer the very best price and to look after you personally.
They won’t. Some will not have the correct insurance, some will just rip you off with an inflated fare. As you are being lured into what is effectively a stranger’s car, there is also the risk of being mugged or attacked..
Only use licensed taxis, and if you are unsure, ask a police officer or tourist guide which companies you can trust.
Book your taxi online, by phone, or in a mini-cab office, never through someone on the street. Ask for the name of your driver when you book it too.
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Make sure they check your ID
When a mini-cab books up, ask the driver for his/her name to check that it is the same as the one you were given. Also ask him/her what name the cab is booked in; crooked drivers will often pull up and pretend that they are the cab you’ve booked, but they won’t know your name.
Check their ID
Every legitimate taxi will have the driver’s ID prominently displayed, so check that it bears at least a passing resemblance to the driver.
It’s always worth taking a sneaky photo of your driver’s identification badge and sending it as a text or email to someone you trust too.
If you are travelling in London, Transport for London (TfL) has a handy licence checker on its website that you can use to check whether a cab driver’s licence is genuine. TfL also has a handy list of ways to book a cab, ensuring that the one you use is genuine.
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Check the car
Is the taxi clean and well presented? If it isn’t, then you should refuse to get in; a poorly maintained car could be a sign that it isn’t roadworthy, while a professional driver will always do their best to make a good first impression.
Sit behind the driver
If you are travelling alone, always sit directly behind the driver. This makes it almost impossible for him to overpower you and it also places you away from the kerb, making it harder for anyone to open the rear door from the pavement to snatch your bag.
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Get out if you feel uncomfortable
The British are renowned for their stiff upper lip but if you feel uncomfortable, ask the driver to stop and get out.
Pay him/her the full fare and then get another taxi. Better to write off a few pounds than to continue when you feel unsafe.
Call for help
Always check what the emergency telephone number is in the country you are visiting. (Wikipedia has a very useful list here.)
If you feel uncomfortable and can’t get out of the cab then call that number immediately.
Five things to do if you are pulled over by the police.
Never share a cab
It’s tempting to accept a stranger’s offer to share a cab to cut costs, but this is a mistake. Your fellow passenger may well be in league with the driver, leaving you vulnerable to being robbed.
Or to being set up in a sting; a less common scam is for your fellow traveller to leave behind some contraband in the taxi when they get out. The taxi will then be stopped by a fake police officer that is working with them. You will be arrested and offered the chance to pay an on the spot ‘fine’ to be released.
As Wham told us in the eighties: “just say no”.
Have your keys ready
Finally, always have your house keys to hand when you arrive home. That way you aren’t left fumbling around for them after you’ve paid the driver, leaving you alone and vulnerable outside your house.
For more tips and useful information, browse our consumer rights articles.