The black cab is one of London’s most famous icons. Along with Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and the Routemaster bus, it regularly features in stock footage for films set in the capital and retains a nostalgic appeal for many people, particularly visitors to London.

However, figures from Transport for London show a different side to the story. They reveal that, in 2007-8, the 21,000 black cabs in London produced almost the same amount of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) as the capital’s 46,000 private hire vehicles (PHVs) and even more of the emissions (PM10 and NOx) that are responsible for air pollution. So it is quite clear that black cabs have an adverse environmental impact, both on climate change and air quality, out of proportion to their numbers.

When Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London the annual licensing inspection for cabs was tightened up and in October 2007 an additional mid-year test was introduced. Nearly 40 per cent of cabs failed the test, with excess emissions a major factor. Despite this, Ken’s successor, Boris Johnson, has scrapped the mid-year inspection for black cabs – while retaining them for the less-polluting PHVs.

When I raised the issue of the pollution caused by black cabs at Mayor’s Question Time this month, Boris admitted that emissions of small particulates (PM10) were especially problematic for Londoners suffering from respiratory illnesses and said this issue needed to be “addressed”. But he refused to consider reinstating the twice-yearly checks.

The reason is not hard to find. Some of Boris’ most effective allies during his mayoral campaign were black cab drivers. According to his campaign office, they distributed over seven million receipts with the slogan “Back Boris” to their passengers – a figure equivalent to the entire population of London. In exchange, Boris made a number of promises to the cabbies, including the abolition of the six-monthly test.

It was not as though Ken had treated black cab drivers badly. He gave them exemption from the congestion charge, the right to use central London bus lanes and an increased night-rate tariff. But, unlike Livingstone, Johnson appears happy to sacrifice Londoners’ health and the struggle against climate change for short-term political gain.

Black cabs are a permanent and necessary part of London’s transport network and no one  is proposing to replace them with PHVs. However, as things stand, for the eco-conscious Londoner who needs to use a taxi service, a licensed private hire minicab is the greener option. Black cabs need to clean up their act. The Mayor should take a lead on this crucial issue and do everything he can to reduce emissions – rather than pander to drivers’ convenience in pursuit of electoral advantage.

Published in Tribune, 31 July 2009


  1. James Thomas

    (What I have pointed out is that a black cab produces more pollution than a minicab and that as things stand the latter is the greener option. My aim has been to get black cabs to clean up their act.)

    Please explain how you expect London’s Taxi drivers to clean up there act. Are you suggesting that we scrap the TX4 and all drive vans. What will the disabled lobby have to say about that?
    With most of London’s ageing buses spewing out black smoke, are you suggesting we scrap these beasts and go back to horse drawn omnibuses?

    Surely your comments should be addressed to LTI, the manufacturers of the TX 4 we drive, which incidentally are up to euro 4 standard one more than is currently necessary and are currently the cleanest purpose build taxis in europe.

    Most of the older stock of fairways and TX1 were ordered to have exhaust improvement systems fitted by TfL appointed dealers, as the owners were not trusted to find their own specialists in this field. This has proved to be a disaster, with cabs having worst emissions after paying out thousands of pounds for systems that did not work and is currently subject to a legal battle, as drivers try to recover the enormous outlay they have had to make.

    (In that connection my main argument, which your report failed to mention, is that Mayor Boris Johnson should reinstate the six-monthly inspections for black cabs that he abolished last November.)

    Please explain how you feel this would suddenly improve the CO2, NO2 and PM10 emissions, or is this just another party political jib at Boris.

    Our motorised taxis have served the capitol for over a hundred years without having six-monthly inspections. Our safety standards are second to none.

    It is common knowledge that the only reason this was bought in, by your Lord and master Ken, was to give SGS more profit.

  2. matthew

    What you fail to notice, is black cabs have very little dead mileage. For example if I drop a fare at kings cross station I will pull straight onto the rank. PH on the other hand, will normally pick up fares from one area only. This is where the mini cab office is based and so will do far more mileage as they will have to drive back empty.

    As for the general tone of your article, I think as a member of the Labour party your attack on the black cab trade is unfair. Black cab drivers are often from working class backgrounds and I believe you have bought into the stereotype that some corners of the press like to portray.

    As a Labour voter I am very disappointed that you would publish such an article and hope you will now put the record straight.

  3. smudger

    all taxi drivers in london have been mugged by tfl
    3 grand for bringing the cab to euro3 or higher it dont work and we were all conned my be you should think about giving us our money back you theifing conning bastards when ltlie made the cab in 1999 the 2.7 nissan engine shoud have not been fitted and we were all conned by ltlie just aload of robin hoods licenced to steel

  4. smudger

    the doors over there go through and dont return shitie old labour about time you got your coat and left take mr brown with you london looked after its self for many years before you wankers came along taxing everything to death

  5. johny rotten

    what happened to the one strike and you are out.
    why is the m4 bus lane full of miniscab drivers
    why dont you resign as you aint a clue on london life
    why dont they close tfl down as you waste taxpayers money
    why dont you lift the conditions of fitness so we can drive other vehicles with lower emmisions insted of ltlie
    why dont you give me my 3grand you robbed of me for the conversion to euro 3 that dont work you theifs

  6. brian

    So you say 40%failed mid year test on emissions,who put in place the emissions upgrade and told us where to go to have them fitted.tfl and livinstone .What is your agenda need i ask


    You rotten scoundrel this is our job,you no nothing of our trade,you are not working class you,what about minicab there cars are rubbish old bangers you are not man you will not get my vote

  8. Capt Taxi

    How much pollution is caused by the inept traffic ‘management’ systems created by TfL?
    By reducing the capacity of streets such as Shaftesbury Avenue by one lane or 50% causes congestion.
    Why should taxis be blamed for this.
    Can’t wait till Oxford Street (eastern part) is closed for roadworks,incident,accident etc and the buses,driving trunk to tail, are forced down Shaftesbury Avenue.
    Will taxis be blamed for that?

    Start looking at yourselves and start taking responsibility for the consequences of your ill-conceived plans that are not published before they are implemented.

  9. charlie


  10. Quick Livery

    Black cab produces more pollution than a minicab,with cabs having worst emissions after paying out thousands of pounds for systems that did not work and is currently subject to a legal battle.


  12. jack

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