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Black Christmas as London Runs Out of Cabs

Taxi drivers and hire companies are warning of a worsening shortage of London black cabs that will coincide with the run-up to Christmas, traditionally the busiest time of year for the trade. Part-time taxi drivers typically hire cars in November to work over the holidays.

Photo: Dan Kitwood | Getty Images

Some of them report long waiting lists if not a complete absence of vehicles. Renny Raphael-Campbell, owner of a taxi-hire company in northwest London, told the Financial Times that other would-be drivers are "being laughed at for asking".

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"The demand for vehicles completely, massively outstrips supply," Mr Raphael-Campbell said. "We have drivers who have been out of vehicles for three weeks who can't find one to work."

Manganese Bronze, the black-cab manufacturer, entered administration last month after reporting four years of financial losses, rising warranty costs and supply problems that culminated in a recall of 400 TX4 black cabs owing to faulty Chinese-made steering boxes.

In addition to the recalled cabs – which are now parked in garages awaiting a fix – hansoms 15 years and older were pulled off London's streets earlier this year as part of Mayor Boris Johnson's clean air strategy.

"We've got a perfect storm," taxi driver Graham Spero said on Tuesday. "All sorts of things have come together at the wrong time." Following Manganese Bronze's failure, some cabbies also report that garages are no longer honouring warranties for repairs or parts.

PwC, Manganese Bronze's administrators, confirmed that the warranty on black cabs had been suspended at independent service centres until further notice, but repair work was "being reviewed and allowed on a case-by-case basis" at the company's own service centre network.

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Last week the administrators sacked about half of Manganese Bronze's 300-odd staff, and said they would continue to service taxis and refit faulty steering boxes once a solution had been found.

London's taxi market was supplied solely by Manganese Bronze until 2008. Mercedes-Benz, which now claims 40 per cent of the market, says that it sold 40 cabs last month, compared with 18 in September.

"This has not been sprung on the trade overnight," said Peter Da Costa, whose company distributes Mercedes taxis. "There's a shortage of cabs for people to rent, but not for people to buy."