London cab drivers 'The Knowledge' exam?

I’ve know about this legendary test since sometime in the early 80s when PBS ran a BBC miniseries about it. I get why it’s so difficult, London being such an incredibly old city that its streets are a nightmarish, constantly changing hodge-podge of very old and very new streets. But what I don’t quite get is this: I’ve read that it takes nearly four years of intense, serious study to prepare for and pass ‘The Knowledge’ exam. But how can a London cab driver’s salary possibly be commensurate to such effort?

The recession notwithstanding, in the US a four-year college degree would certainly offer better opportunities than being a cab driver. In fact, regardless of the city’s size, driving a cab in the US is always considered little more than a bottom-tier, entry-level job. All you need is a drivers license and a pulse. I don’t mean to over-emphasize any social stigma, but that’s just the practical reality.

So are London cab fares significantly more than in the US? Or is it just the difference in the countries economies and/or cultures that make them so different?

I wonder about this too. I mean now that we have GPS ANYONE can be a cab driver, as witnessed by Uber.

From an article in The New York Times last year, “There are no official statistics, but drivers themselves will tell you that London cabbies can earn around £65,000 per year, about $100,000, while maintaining an enviably flexible schedule.”

BBC recently ran a report saying they’re planning to do away with The Knowledge due largely to GPS. Present cabbies are almost unanimous in their opposition to this.

And of course Wiki has info on it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicabs_of_the_United_Kingdom#The_Knowledge

Reminds me of all the info about the Mississippi River that steamboat pilots in Mark Twain’s time had to pack into their heads in order to be licensed: cities, towns, bridges, landings, woodlots, wrecks, snags, hazards, etc. And the river changed every year, so you had to learn it all over again!

There’s a few things, I think.

Firstly the amount that can be earned used to be substantial. I don’t know how it is now with uber competing.

Secondly there’s a class and prestige thing: a working class person would see being a London cabbie as pretty top drawer. The requirement to have the Knowledge ensures that it cannot be a job that any person with a pulse and a driver’s licence can have. You are not a person who drives taxis in London. You are a London Cabbie and that has status.

Thirdly, it’s not like the years spent as a Knowledge boy (or girl) have to be full time study. When I was driving trucks in London a lot of courier drivers of my acquaintance were doing the Knowledge so that they could absorb a lot while being paid full time, and could then just fill in the specialised Knowledge of runs on the weekends and after hours.

London Black cab drivers make good money, but only because they are the only ones legally allowed to pick up fares off the street in the city. Its an protectionist system that really only benefits the Black Cab drivers. London’s black cab fares are exorbitant even compared to most major european cities.

When I lived in London and used to go out, we would stay out until 6AM to get the Tube home when it started running, because it would cost 50 pounds to get a cab home, a journey that would take about 30 minutes at that time of day. Minicabs (that you have to book at an office) are slightly cheaper, but not much and still more expensive than in other european cities. I have no doubt that the current drivers don’t want to see the knowledge abolished, but they can suck it up. I hope UBER drives them bankrupt.

Of course they are. It means additional competition for them and reduces the size of their share of the pie. I don’t want to disparage the rightful sense of achievement which successful Knowledge takers have, but economically it is simply a closed-shop system designed to keep competition low and prices high, to the detriment of customers.

Which is pretty much the business case for cab drivers everywhere. I hope Uber kills this business. Technology marches on. No one had any sympathy for video stores, record stores, etc. Why should we have any sympathy for cabbies. They are overpriced and don’t serve the public well. Screw 'em.

I fully agree. My country, Germany, is one of those where taxi associations have won court cases against Uber, forcing Uber to chnage its business model to such an extent that they’re effectively not providing their services in Germany. To the press, the taxi associations justify this with consumer protection considerations - making sure that only well-trained and properly ensured drivers provide their services. Personally, being a consumer myself, I find it quite presumptuous when a business wants to force me to deviate my decision as a consumer with the pretext of protecting me from my own free will.

My understanding is that the Knowledge isn’t just impecabble memorising of tens of thousands of streets, it’s also about knowing every landmark, hotel etc. Useful when dealing with lost tourists and something GPS probably isn’t good for. Cabbies also argue that their directions can be quicker than GPS.

I have to say I’m surprised they earn so much, and wonder whether a large chunk of that money gets spent on car repairs. The black cabs cost a fortune.

Like slide rules were faster than calculators?

Well taxis aren’t overpriced worldwide, I have no idea how taxis manage to turn a profit here in China. But I agree with you regarding protectionism… We’re in a fast changing world and we all have to be ready to retrain when a given niche is filled… I’ve already had to do that in my career.

Lets take Thailand for an example. Taxi’s are very reasonably priced in Bangkok, where all Taxi’s have meters and using them is enforced. Sometimes drivers don’t want to take you where you want to go but generally you can get a good deal.

Outside Bangkok, Taxi mafia’s rule and prices are 2-3 times what they are in Bangkok. UBER tried to setup in Phuket, a popular tourist island destination. They lasted about 2 or 3 months, the existing Taxi mafia was physically beating up Uber drivers or getting corrupt police to stop them and fine them for any infraction they could make up. In the western world its not quite that blatant but the result is the same.

Is that a good comparison? A really detailed knowledge of a city as convoluted as London will help when navigating around traffic snarl-ups etc faster than any GPS-based system can currently do, surely.

Ordinary GPS is pretty stupid. It doesn’t know that there was a wreck at Third and Crumpet 20 minutes ago so traffic in that area will be tangled for the next hour, and it doesn’t know that the high school on Birch lets out at 3:15, so it’s faster to dodge around all that on Evergreen.

That what the Knowledge is about - not just rote routes, but the secrets known only by locals about the where and when of getting around easily.

Granted, new apps like Waze give nearly instantantaneous updates on traffic conditions, but they depend on enough other users of the app reporting conditions to be useful. I use Waze, and it’s been amazingly useful at getting me around complete freeway closures where there’s a couple thousand other users nearby, but it’s not so great for surface roads, and it sent me past a baseball stadium just after the game ended. :smack:

I don’t know how GPS algorithms work, but they often don’t give me the optimum route. It happens fairly regularly that I’ll punch something into Google Maps, it’ll give me, say, a 45 minute ETA, but I’ll ignore it to go the route I know is faster, and then, when it recalculates, it gives me, say, a 40 minute ETA. Why didn’t you give me the faster route to begin with?! And there are certain places around my house that it does this consistently–it doesn’t even consider the other route.

The article I linked to touched on that aspect; that it’s not just a matter of knowing the official names of streets. It helps to know what streets are called casually and where restaurants and other places are located.

Just be sure they do use the meter. Most often they do, but I’m sure you know they commonly refuse to use it near some tourist spots, quoting outrageous prices instead. And near bar areas. Try picking up any taxi on Silom Road by Patpong, and none will use the meter, but oddly just walk across the road to the other side, and all of them going that direction will. Same with lower Sukhumvit Road at night – difficult (but not impossible) to get them to use the meter on the side with odd-numbered sois, no problem at all on the other side.)

Something like The Knowledge would be good in Bangkok, but I don’t see the drivers here putting that much effort into learning it. Too often I have to give directions to my driver, because they simply don’t know Bangkok and have never heard of the places I want to go even if they’re not all that obscure locations. They’re often literally in Bangkok fresh off the farm for only the past week.

Meh, since everyone has google maps and trip advisor on their phone the Taxi driver knowing where are things are located is not particularly useful. Anyway UBER has made pretty clear that a fleet of self driving with no drivers is their end goal. Taxi driving as a career has a pretty limited life span at this point.