Electric hackney carriages appeared before the introduction of the internal combustion engine to vehicles for hire in 1901. During the 20th century, cars generally replaced horse-drawn models, and the last horse-drawn hackney carriage ceased service in London in 1947. Horse-drawn hackney services in some other parts of the country continue to operate, for example in Cockington, Torquay. A small, usually two-wheeled, one-horse hackney vehicle called a noddy once plied the roads in Ireland and Scotland. The French had a small hackney coach called a fiacre.
Regulations define a hackney carriage as a taxicab 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.
Several United States taxicab companies have purchased hackney carriages for use on US streets.
The name 'Hackney' is the Anglicized derivative of "haquenée". In French, this is a horse of medium size used for ladies to ride on.
The first documented appearance of the 'Hackney Coach' - the forerunner of the more generic 'Hackney Carriage' - was in London in 1621.
The New York terms "hack" (taxi or taxi driver), "hackstand" (taxi stand), and "hack license" (taxi license) are probably derived from "hackney carriage".
Motorised hackney cabs, traditionally all black, have the popular name of black cabs, although other colours also appear, most frequently when advertising campaigns call for the respraying of large groups of cabs in vivid brand liveries. A notable example was the 50 golden cabs produced for the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002.
Most hackney-carriage operators in the United Kingdom use conventional four-door saloon cars, but in London and several other large cities, specially-designed hackney carriages, manufactured by a small number of companies, LTI, Metrocab (who no longer make taxis but a sizable fleet remain) and from 2008 Mercedes-Benz. These vehicles normally allow up to five passengers in the back, but some are rebuilt and licensed to carry six. Luggage usually goes in the passenger compartment or travels in the front next to the driver — these vehicles have no front passenger-seat. A door has replaced the original open side. All models can also accommodate wheelchairs in the back. Black cabs have a turning circle of only 25 feet (7.6 m). (Oil millionaire Nubar Gulbenkian was said to have bought himself a London taxi because he had been told "it can turn on a sixpence — whatever that is.")
Other celebrities are known to use hackney carriages both for their anonymity, and their ruggedness/manoeuvrability in London traffic. Examples include Prince Philip, whose cab has been converted to run on Liquefied petroleum gas according to the British royal website, and Stephen Fry.
Black cabs have recently served as recording studios for indie band performances and other performances in the Black Cab Sessions internet project.
In London, hackney-carriage drivers have to pass a test called The Knowledge to demonstrate they have an intimate knowledge of London streets. There are currently around 21,000 black cabs in London, licensed by the Public Carriage Office.
Since 2003 it has been possible to purchase the London Taxi model TXII in the United States. Today there are approximately 250 TXIIs in the U.S.operating as taxis in San Francisco, Dallas, Long Beach, Houston, New Orleans and Las Vegas.
There have been different makes and types of hackney cabs through the years including: