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Twilight of London's black cab?

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Ben Quinn

(Read caption) A TX1 taxi idles behind a Mercedes ‘people carrier.’

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Aside from London’s ubiquitous red double-decker buses, little else is more evocative of the city’s streetscape than the fleets of black cabs.

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But increasingly, the familiar image of the traditional workhorse taxi is being eroded by the rising popularity, among drivers, of Mercedes “people carriers.”

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“They’re just better all-around vehicles,” admits Peter Shand, a cabby with nearly 40 years of experience.

Nevertheless, he has yet to switch from a traditional TX1 taxi, with its distinctive front grille and round headlights, to one of the German-made alternatives, known as “Vitos,” whose doors slide shut with muted Teutonic efficiency.

“It’s nice to see that there is another tool on the market,” Mr. Shand says, “but at the end of the day I’m a traditionalist, and London just wouldn’t be London without the old-fashioned black cabs.”