In the United Kingdom, a hackney carriage is a taxicab licensed by the Public Carriage Office in the London Metropolitan Area or by the local authority in other parts of the country.
They were originally Hansom cabs, horse-drawn carriages that operated as vehicles for hire. Today a hackney carriage is a taxicab that is allowed to ply the streets looking for passengers to pick up, as opposed to private hire vehicles sometimes called minicabs, which may only pick up passengers who have previously booked or who visit the taxi operator's office.
At the beginning of 2004, the government is currently consulting local councils and taxi operators on abolishing the distinction between the two types of taxi, with a view to issuing only hackney licences.
In most of the country hackney carriages are conventional four door saloon cars but in London (and some other cities) hackney carriages are specially designed vehicles manufactured by Manganese Bronze. These vehicles are designed to take up to 6 passengers in the back, and hold luggage in the front next to the driver. Some modern designs can also accommodate wheelchairs in the back.
They were traditionally all black in colour and are popularly known as black cabs. Despite the name, other colours can be observed -most frequently when large groups of cabs are resprayed in vivid brand liveries as part of advertisement campaigns.
In London, Hackney Carriage drivers have to pass a test called The Knowledge to demonstrate they have an intimate knowledge of London streets.
The first Hackney Carriages were licensed in 1662, and were at the time literally horse-drawn carriages. During the 20th century these were generally replaced with cars, and the last horse-drawn Hackney carriage was withdrawn from service in 1947.
The name derives not from Hackney in London, but from the French word haquenée, referring to the horse that was pulling it. The New York terms "hackstand" (taxi stand) and "hack license" (taxi license) likely derive from "hackney carriage."
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