Thinking allowed — 23 October 2012

They were once described in Parliament by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli as “Hansom cab are the gondolas of London”.

In a recent poll by Hotels.com based on responses from 1,600 travellers found that passengers were more than twice as likely to ‘become amorous’ in a black cab, with 26 per cent of global travellers having kissed in the back seat.

The poll which put London cabbies ahead of all other cities’ cabs, passengers admitted to feeling so safe that 56 per cent had nodded off in the back seat. But this commodious form of transport more akin to gliding through London’s streets with the air of a liveried gentleman is threatened with its very survival.

The symbol of quiet dependability and polished tradition is under threat as Manganese Bronze, the company that has made the iconic cab since 1947 but has not made a profit since 2007 has now been put into administration.

The black cab’s demise will come as little surprise to its owners. The FX4 which first appeared on London’s streets some six decades ago was a beautifully engineered vehicle and a quantum leap in comfort and reliability from the other vehicles plying for hire on London’s streets. Its successor, the Fairway, which went some way to resolving the issue of the FX4’s brakes which seemed to have a mind of their own, is now to be withdrawn from London’s streets at the behest of Transport for London.

Beset with reliability issues, the recent incarnations by Manganese Bronze, the FX1, 2 and 4 have been prone to leaks (don’t ever leave anything not waterproof in the boot), spontaneous combustion and most recently steering problems. Seemingly cobbled together from parts made by other manufacturers, driving one seems to take one back to the early 1970s when British cars were synonymous with shoddy workmanship.

There has always been something pleasingly dignified about a bespoke vehicle for London rather than using vehicles which can be bought at a local car showroom. With ample headroom and legroom it has none of the scrunch and squeeze of a regular automobile, or looking like a converted van by a quality German manufacturer.

But it looks that unless something appears at the 11th hour the gondolas of London are doomed to be replaced with the ubiquitous black vans manufactured in Germany or Japan.

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