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This year, over 320,000 tourists are expected to pour into London to watch the 2012 Olympic Games which will begin on July 27. And while each ticket to the Games allows the use of free public transport, it is safe to say that the iconic London taxi will also be one of the tourists’ primary modes of transportation within the city.

There are approximately 23,200 black taxis in London and they are usually four-door ‘saloon’ vehicles; over the years, they have been built by a number of car makers including Fiat, Peugeot, Volkswagen and even Mercedes. They can usually accommodate six to eight passengers, and most of them are wheelchair-accessible. According to several surveys conducted worldwide, London taxis are considered to be the safest – and the most expensive – in the world.

Taxi drivers have to take a rigorous examination called ‘The Knowledge’ to qualify to drive them. In addition to competent driving skills, the test also requires drivers to have an in-depth knowledge of London’s street routes and well known landmarks.
A significant number of taxi drivers have decided to welcome tourists in style by offering services such as Wifi internet access. One taxi driver has even gone so far as to turn his taxi into a hotel for one person, which can be rented out for one night at a time. Called the ‘Cab-o-tel’, its features include a memory foam mattress, covered with an official Olympic bedspread, a solar powered fridge, a radio and an iPad.

So if you are in London this summer – or later on – remember that you can now order a taxi online or over the phone. Or, you could join the ranks of Prince Philip and the oil magnate, Nubar Gulbenkian, and be chauffeured around in your own customised taxi. The cost? Approximately £30,000-35,000.

– Haroon Rasheed

First published in the Adbuzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on July 22, 2012.