Future of London's black cabs in jeopardy

    12:30 PM, Nov 8, 2012   |    comments
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    LONDON, UK (CBS) - There are fears over the future of London's famous black cabs. Following four years of financial losses and a recent recall of 400 cabs with faulty steering, the company that manufactures the iconic London cabs may have to close down if a buyer for the company can't be found soon.

    It could be a black Christmas for black cabs and why one of London's historic institutions would be missed.

    They've been on the streets of the capital since before cars. Black cabs make London, London as much, maybe more than those other timeless British icons like red phone boxes, double-decker buses and Big Ben. Columnist Quentin Letts says, 'If you had been visiting London in the days of Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens at the end of the 1800's, you would have got into a hackney carriage, a horse drawn cart, and these cabs are direct descendant of that."

    But it may be the end of that long line. The company that makes black cabs is on the verge of going bust unless someone can bail it out. After four years of heavy financial losses, and a recent recall of hundreds of cabs, the manufacturers are in trouble.

    John Rowley has been driving cabs for a lifetime, like his brother, and their father before them. He's driven by pride. He says, "Every day is a challenge. You know, it's dealing with the public. You've got to be a diplomat, an ambassador as you sort of look at it."

    That means memorizing every street in central London and knowing how to get there. Every black cabby has to pass a four-year course called 'The Knowledge.'

    Way back in the day, soldiers returning from World War II were offered that training for free. They learned the streets on the street on two wheels before four.

    Not a lot has changed, except there are now 21,000 cabs on London's streets. Stepping into one is a little like stepping back in time.

    He prefers a body, and says you always have to be up for a chat. Whatever may be on his passenger's mind. Rowley says, "I've heard so many stories about their personal lives. We hear things, but hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Sometimes you hear things you don't want to hear. But never repeat it."

    He says he does try to steer clear of some bumpy roads. Rowley says, "Well I have a golden rule. Never talk about religion or politics, stay clear of that. The last thing you want to get involved in a sort of debate about the economy or the prime minister or the president or whatever."

    What nobody wants to talk about, or even think about, is the end of the London black cab as the British all know and love. Letts says, "As long as I have been coming to London, I have been getting in to one of those. Paying a lot of money but loving it."

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