Professor Eleanor Maguire continuing
further research first published by University College London into students of the Knowledge has concluded that those who qualify to become London cabbies have a greater volume of grey matter than those that fail. The study suggests that the brain might change to accommodate the mass of information needed in order to become a London cabbie.
[F]ollowing a group of 79 trainee cabbies and a “control group” of 31 non-taxi drivers (presumably private hire drivers using SatNavs), the volunteers were subjected to MRI scans and memory tasks over a period of approximately four years, the time it takes to qualify as a London Cabbie.
The results make interesting reading, for the students who qualified had gained a greater volume of grey matter in their posterior hippocampus, an area of the brain known to generate new neurons into adulthood, this suggests that memory loss in the old could be improved by training their memory.
The 40 who failed and the non-taxi drivers showed no discernible difference in their brains. However the Knowledge students who qualified to become cabbies were found to be worse at recalling complex visual information suggesting there might be a price to pay if you qualify to become one of the world’s best cabbies.
What is not clear, however, is whether those students who became fully-fledged London cabbies already had some biological advantage over those who failed. So could some of us have a genetic predisposition to become cabbies?
Trying to hide a rather smug countenance I thought that it was time some comparisons should be made with other cities’ cabbies:
Parisians are always complaining they can never hail a taxi in the street, hardly surprising for the number of cabs plying for hire in Paris was capped in 1937 at 14,000. Today just 15,900 operate within the city limits. When Nicholas Sarkozy took power in 2008 he sought to increase that number up to 60,000 by making it easier to become a Parisian cabby. The outcome? Two strikes by the cabbies resulting in the status quo being maintained.
To become a taxi driver in Paris, you must buy a taxi licence. They are limited in number, and only become available when an existing driver dies, or gives up the job. A taxi licence can cost drivers anywhere between €30,000 and €250,000. An average Parisian licence costs €186,000. The licence allows a taxi driver to operate, so drivers literally buy their way into the profession, the downside is that licences do not come up very often.
If the cabbies are so miserable, it is because their job is not an easy one. The average Parisian taxi driver will work from five in the morning until eleven at night for six days a week. Many drivers will also work on Sunday mornings and have to clear €150 a day before they make any profit.
All potential New York Taxi Drivers after criminal and solvency checks must complete a defensive driving course. The course is six hours in length and cost around $50 and must be satisfactorily completed within six months of filing their application. The applicants must then attend an approved taxi school for either the 80-hour or the 24-hour course. According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission “taking the 80-hour course increases your chances of passing the taxi exam because it covers additional material not covered in the 24-hour course”, that would seems pretty good advice to me. After completing this course applicants have to pass an English proficiency test and then take a written examination based on the course all of which is undertaken at the same taxi school.
Assuming they pass a useful little gadget is available to know just where you are in Manhattan:
Lost in Manhattan? Ask the Master Cabbie
The New York City address slide guide (t.m. s.m. patent pending). A simple piece of folded (Sleeve) cardboard, with another piece of cardboard inserted. With a cut out to pull the inserted card to a desired location on the decorative front of the sleeve, and a slot for viewing addresses and cross street on the inside of the sleeve . . . Ingenious.
How many people can name the nearest cross street to an address on a Manhattan Ave. without looking it up? Not many . . . I must admit there are a few I would have to look up, but not many. The Manhattan Grid is the key. Addresses were designed to allow for easy calculation in finding an address.
Example: 780 1st Avenue is at 42nd Street.
Process to calculate: Cancel last digit of address 780 = 78 and then divide by 2 = 39 and then add the key number +3 = 42 Street.
Where do you get the key number? From the Master Cabbie of course www.mastercabbie.com it’s as easy as that in New York.
Even among the notoriously hardworking Japanese, Tokyo cabbies keep up a relentless schedule. It isn’t rare for a driver to start at 9 am and burn on through until 4 o’clock the next morning. Short breaks and plenty of coffee keep them from shutting down completely, which is why it’s no surprise that back alleys are often full of sleeping cabbies, those who have made the decision to give themselves and their workhorses a rest. With all this hard work, you would expect drivers to take home a decent wad of cash. Yet the Tokyo Taxi Association says the average wage is around ¥4.5 million.
In the face of such difficulties, who, then, would become a Tokyo cabbie? Actually, pretty much anyone who wants to. Companies are always hiring, and the process is remarkably straightforward: applicants just need a clean driving record and a passing score on a 40-question examination that tests their knowledge of the city’s layout. Once a driver has cleared that hurdle, he or she joins one of the city’s myriad companies, picks up his keys, and starts the never-ending road trip that is his job. After drivers hit the road, companies grade their performance via a system that assigns a letter grade from C (the bottom) to
AA (tops). The system is a boon for highly rated drivers but increases the pressure on everyone else.
In light of the four years of unpaid work a London cab driver has to go through before he can get his licence, its understandable why Tokyo cabbies rely so heavily on their GPS systems.
2 thoughts on “Racking your brains”
The work on brain capacity is interesting but I imagine more would need to be done both to confirm it and to define exactly what processes are involved.
The only time I tried to hire a Parisian cab I was unsuccessful as the driver was waiting for a client but he did at least tell me I didn’t need a cab as my destination was just around the corner.
I have often thought that a limit on the number of black cabs in London would be a very good idea because they do congest the streets greatly in some parts and the large numbers driving around with their “for hire” lights on suggest that there isn’t enough work for all of them. I don’t see any chance of such a limit being enacted, sadly.
Contrary to what many of my colleagues say, regulating the number of black cabs in London isn’t necessary. With over 4 years needed to complete The Knowledge 70 per cent don’t complete the course. In addition the structure of The Knowledge seems to attract students with higher education (hard to believe sometimes) who have transferable skills. This means that many do not become full time cabbies but dip in and out of the trade depending on their financial situation at the time. This has a tendency to keep the numbers of cabs plying for hire down.
As for Parisien cabbies when I would go to Paris in the late ’50s the drivers always had a small dog in the front passenger seat, I couldn’t work out whether the dog was for company, or to dissuade disgruntled passengers complaining at the cabbies irascible attitude.