There are approximately 300,000 taxi cabs and private hire vehicles in the UK, and around 365,000 licensed taxi drivers.
If you’re thinking of joining their ranks, you’ll need to prove you’ve got the practical skills to stay safe on the roads. But that’s not all.
Have you thought about how you’ll attract new and repeat customers with your marketing? Or how you’ll stay healthy despite those long hours behind the wheel?
If you want to become a taxi driver, the practicalities and paperwork might seem overwhelming at first glance. So, we’ve broken the process down for you, and listed 18 of the key steps you need to take to get on the road.
If you work in the UK illegally, you risk legal trouble or even deportation. So check your right to work and apply for a visa where necessary.
If you’re a British or Irish citizen, there’s no problem. And if you’re an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen who arrived in the UK before 31 December 2020, you can apply for settled status, giving you the right to work freely.
Commonwealth citizens might also have right of abode in the UK, depending on where you or your parents were born, which also entitles you to work.
If none of the above applies, you might well need to apply for a visa or permit. There are various categories available, depending on factors such as your home country, your age, your refugee or asylum seeker status, whether you’ve got ancestors born in the UK, or whether you’ve got close relatives living here.
Bear in mind that many work visas require sponsorship from an employer, making it hard for self-employed taxi drivers to get the right permit.
More than 80% of taxi drivers in the UK are self-employed, operating independently or on a freelance basis for a private firm. So, what are the pros and cons?
Being self-employed means you’re your own boss. If you want to take a lengthy break, perhaps to visit family overseas, you don’t need anyone’s permission to do so.
You can choose your own hours, fitting them in around other commitments such as family or study. Be aware, though, that you’ll probably need to work unsociable hours to meet demand.
If you’re self-employed, you’re responsible for the upkeep of your own vehicle. You’ll need to pay into a pension and put money aside to cover holiday or sick leave. And don’t forget to keep your accounts and pay your tax bill each year.
If you’re employed, you’ll drive one of your company’s fleet of cars. You’ll receive a regular wage plus benefits, but you’ll have to agree to certain shifts and stick to your company’s rules.
There are two types of cabs in the UK: taxis (or hackney carriages), and private hire vehicles (PHVs). Although we often use the word ‘taxi’ to cover both types, there are important differences.
Hackney carriages can wait in ranks or be hailed on the streets – they don’t need to be booked in advance. Rates are set by the local authority and are often higher than those that minicabs can charge.
The local authority limits the number of licences it issues, and you’ll need to pass stringent tests to get one, like the famous Knowledge test for London cabbies.
PHVs must be booked, not hailed on the streets or at ranks. There are no limits set on their numbers, and it’s easier to get a licence. Drivers or firms can set their own rates according to the market, charging more at times of peak demand.
Customers book through a minicab firm or use a ride-sharing app such as Uber that links drivers with customers. Many PHV drivers work on a self-employed basis for both.
You need two licences issued by your local authority (or, in London, Transport for London) to become a taxi driver: a driver’s licence, and a vehicle licence. The same applies for PHV drivers.
For the driver’s licence, you’ll need to have held a full car driving licence for at least a year and will have to take an additional taxi driving test.
Test providers vary from area to area – your local council can advise you. But it will usually take around 45 minutes and test your driving abilities on urban and rural roads. You’ll have to demonstrate that you can turn your car around safely and pull up by the side of the road.
Finally, the examiner will ask you questions on the Highway Code and ‘cabology’, or cab driving and safety.
If you’re planning on driving a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, you’ll take a slightly longer test to demonstrate that you can load, secure and unload a wheelchair and passenger safely.
You’ll also be tested on your knowledge of the local area. London black cab drivers often call this ‘The Knowledge’ and are rightly proud of their ability to name streets across their entire city!
These days, with satellite navigation systems, you don’t have to remember everything yourself but the Knowledge test – in London especially – is still recognised as a sign of a competent taxi driver. But whichever city, town or village you’re working in, you still need to know your way around.
It’s common for licensing authorities to set higher pass marks for those wanting to drive hackney carriages, like London’s traditional black cabs, than for PHVs.
Once you’ve got your taxi driver’s licence, it lasts for three years before renewal.
You’ll also need a vehicle licence from your local authority. Your vehicle is a major investment and it’s going to be your livelihood, so research your choice well.
For hackney carriages, many councils will only license wheelchair-accessible and ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs). There may be a colour scheme so that your vehicle is instantly recognisable by customers wishing to hail it: for example, blue in Bristol, and white and aquamarine in Brighton.
There are specialist companies selling or leasing hackney carriages – look for one in your area, to make sure your vehicle fits your council’s criteria.
Minicab drivers have more choice, though many councils will only license newer vehicles. You’ll need to consider factors such as ease of access, luggage space, and fuel efficiency.
Whichever vehicle you decide to buy, you might need to take out a loan, so approach your bank for advice.
Alternatively, you could lease one. You’ll get a new car, and you could include a maintenance plan on your agreement. However, while leasing your vehicle saves you investment costs, it might be more expensive than buying in the long run.
The final step in getting your vehicle licence is proving that it is taxed and insured.
If you’re going to take your own bookings, rather than take jobs from a company, you’ll also need an operator’s licence.
This is essentially proof that you are of good character. Exact requirements are set by your licensing authority, but will include ID, proof of your right to work in the UK, and photos. There’s a fee to pay, too.
You’ll need to renew your operator’s licence every five years.
As driving a licensed vehicle is a highly responsible job that potentially puts you in contact with vulnerable people, many licensing authorities have stringent standards in place in order to protect passengers. These can be higher for hackney carriage drivers. Check your council’s website for full details.
Many councils require you to have taken the Level 2 NVQ Certification in Introduction to the Role of the Professional Taxi and Private Hire Driver. You can often study this at local colleges or by distance learning.
You might have to take courses in topics such as: customer service, basic English and maths, disability assistance, health and safety, and taxi maintenance.
The licensing authority will ask for an enhanced DBS check to ensure you don’t have any past convictions that make you an unsuitable candidate for a driving job, such as offences involving violence or dishonesty. Applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, and minor convictions are unlikely to exclude you.
You could well be asked to take a medical test, too, to prove your fitness for driving passengers.
Got all your paperwork together? Excellent! Submit it to your local authority along with the relevant fees, and you should soon become a taxi driver. Remember to display your driver licence inside your cab, and your vehicle licence plates on your bumpers.
If you’re self-employed, keeping your vehicle in tip-top condition is your responsibility. Not only could a fault put you, your passengers and other road users in danger, but any time off the road for vehicle repairs spells a loss of income for you.
Your licensing authority will carry out regular inspections and suspend your vehicle licence if they spot anything of concern.
So, if you want to become a taxi driver, it’s wise to acquire some basic car maintenance skills, such as changing tyres. Set up a regular schedule of quick checks on your tyres, wipers, seatbelts, oil and water.
For more serious repairs, get an agreement in place with a local garage.
As a self-employed cab driver, you are a businessperson. That means keeping on top of admin, especially book-keeping, and ensuring that your bills are paid, and your paperwork is in order.
You’ll need to keep accounts covering your income and expenditure, backed up by receipts and invoices.
At the end of the financial year, you’ll have to submit a tax return and pay your tax bill. Remember to deduct your allowable business expenses, which could include fuel, repairs, cleaning, interest on business loan repayments, insurance, parking and so on.
Paying an accountant is often a wise move – it might even save you money, as accountants will know exactly what you can claim as a business expense.
You’ll need taxi driver insurance covering not only your vehicle, but also public liability. Most drivers consider breakdown cover essential, too.
And finally, don’t forget your road tax – unless your vehicle is exempt – and MOT.
The above is just the bare minimum if you want to become a taxi driver. If you’re keen to grow your business, you’ll need to look into aspects such as marketing your brand and employing other drivers to work with you.
On average, people in the UK take 11 cab trips per year. So, there are many different potential customers that you could target for business, depending on the market in your area, the hours you want to work, and your personal preference.
A lot of taxi trade serves the night-time economy. It can be busy and varied work – though sometimes challenging. You’ll need to deal with drunk or aggressive customers in a way that defuses the situation and keeps you and your vehicle safe.
If you like working with elderly people, think about offering hospital runs or supermarket trips. You’ll need to invest in a wheelchair accessible vehicle and be willing to help with lifting.
Perhaps kids need transport to schools in your area?
Alternatively, you could target business people by focusing on your town’s airports, conference centres, or hotels.
So how do you reach these distinct groups of customers? Through your marketing. If you’re serious about setting up a thriving taxi business, you need to establish your brand and get word out about it.
You should begin by choosing a name and getting a logo designed. Set up a Facebook page and a website, too – they don’t need to be complicated.
Get some flyers or cards printed and deliver them to homes and businesses. Try building up partnerships with local businesses like hotels and conference centres.
Run promotions: money off for repeat customers, perhaps. And consider paying for adverts on billboards or local radio.
However, the best marketing of all comes from word of mouth. If you run a reliable, friendly service, your customers will return – and tell their friends about you.
Driving can be very tough on your health, both physically and mentally. So, if you are hoping to become a taxi driver, get some good healthy habits in place.
Sitting in one position for long periods of time will lead to aches and pains, and potentially serious back and neck problems. Make sure your seat is positioned correctly and take regular breaks to stretch your legs and get some fresh air.
Take care with lifting baggage or loading wheelchairs. Follow health and safety advice to avoid straining your back.
When you’re not working, take regular exercise to stay fit. This is great for your mental health, too.
Irregular hours can play havoc with your mealtimes. Try to pack some healthy meals you can eat on the go, to avoid late night fast food binges!
Your sleep will also be disrupted by your shift patterns. Invest in some blackout blinds in your bedroom, ear plugs and eye masks to help you sleep while it’s light.
Dealing with the stresses of the job is perhaps even harder. The unsociable hours can make it hard for you to get a work-life balance, and some customers can be more challenging than others.
At times, you might get lonely or bored: music or podcasts could help. You’ll also find camaraderie among fellow drivers while you’re waiting for jobs.
Don’t handle aggressive or violent customers alone: call the police, and seek help from your firm or other drivers, too. After a threatening or tense situation, give yourself some time to calm down before getting back behind the wheel.
Remember: help is at hand for mental health problems from your GP or specialist helplines such as Mind.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of taxi driving, you can consider whether this is a career you want to develop. If so, you could build on the transferable skills you’ve acquired, and study towards further vocational qualifications.
Perhaps you discover you really relish the business aspects of your job. How about setting up a fleet of cabs and hiring drivers? Start with a course on business skills, HR or accountancy.
You might enjoy the customer service elements of your job, which could open many career paths. Get a recognised qualification from your local college or look out for a distance learning course.
Or perhaps you enjoy maintaining your vehicle? Trained mechanics are always highly sought-after.
And if you discover you have a talent for marketing, this could be a direction for you to explore. You could even work towards a diploma or a degree.
So, although you might be planning to become a taxi driver just as a stop-gap job, it could be the springboard to a flourishing career!
As mentioned above, each local authority sets its own regulations for taxi drivers in their areas. So, what’s special about cab driving in London?
London has almost 13 licensed vehicles per head of population – more than twice as many as the UK average. So it’s a busy environment to work in!
Rather than applying to your local council for licensing, as in other areas of the UK, you need to apply to Transport for London. You’ll need to be at least 18 to apply, but can’t be licensed until you’re 21.
There’s no doubt that cab driving can be risky at times – but there are many ways you can reduce the dangers to you, your customers, and other road users.
First of all, make sure your vehicle is properly maintained. The council will carry out up to three inspections per year, but you should look out for problems on a regular basis, too.
Secondly, make sure you’re in good condition to drive. This includes getting enough sleep, and staying away from alcohol long before any shift. Be aware some prescription medication can make you drowsy, too. Check with your GP about what is safe to take while you’re driving.
With regard to your customers, you should put a plan in place for how to deal with trouble. Learning some conflict resolution skills is a good start: you can defuse many potentially violent situations that way. Consider who you’d call and what action you’d take if things were to escalate. If you work for a minicab firm, stay in regular radio contact with the office and other drivers.
Other safety measures you could consider are self-defence training, and installing CCTV in your cab. Hopefully, you’ll never need them, but they might offer you reassurance.
Finally, how are your first aid skills? You never know when a customer might require emergency help. If you can spot signs of heart attacks, strokes or drug overdoses, you can call for medical assistance quickly and help save lives.
You may also encounter vulnerable children during your time as a taxi driver. The Barnardo’s Nightwatch scheme helps people working in the night-time economy to spot the signs of child exploitation and help stamp it out.
Finally, a sparkling clean cab – inside and out – makes rides so much more pleasant for you and your passengers. If you want to grow your business when you become a taxi driver, it could make all the difference.
Keep bin bags, rubber gloves and basic cleaning equipment in your cab at all times. Have a quick look round between each fare, and throw away any debris.
Take your vehicle to a valet service on a regular basis. It’s amazing how much a gleaming exterior and a fresh-smelling interior will lift your spirits during a long day’s driving.
Plus, cleanliness will encourage your passengers to return, spread the word about your cab service, and help your business flourish.
Taxi driving is an enjoyable and flexible job for the right person.
So if you want to become a taxi driver, why not take your first step today? Perhaps you could research the market in your area? Book yourself in for a taxi driving test? Or sign up for a health and safety course? Safe travels!