Fare grounds

Mirroring many traditional skills the cab trade is facing fierce competition, just as steel making and motor car manufacturing did in the 1980s the licensed London cabbie is under threat.

It is a sad fact that more than three times as many taxi drivers are over 70 years old as there are under 30 years old with an average age of 52 for London’s 25,000 Licensed Cab Drivers.

[O]lder drivers, research has shown, are 10 times less likely to work at night, with a consequence that since 2003 Private Hire companies have tripled in size at night time. This in turn has resulted in a huge over capacity of licensed cabs plying for hire during the day and the huge expansion of Addison Lee drivers filling shortfall during the night with under qualified drivers.

The benchmark qualification for driving a taxi in London is, of course, the coveted All London Green Badge of the London Cabbie, but the numbers coming into the trade to compete with Private Hire is diminishing.

The Knowledge of London was started 148 years ago and at any one time there are over 2,000 students undertaking the Knowledge of London of which for various reasons 75 per cent of the original intake will drop out.

They start by being given 320 routes (called ‘runs’), 80 of which must be completed within the first 6 months, when they return to be tested the pass mark is 60 per cent. At this stage students receive advice from the examiners. The remaining 240 runs need to be completed with 2 years including memorising the places (called ‘points) at either end of the run and in addition a written test has to be completed.

Generally speaking it still takes on average 40 months to gain a Green Badge, longer than it takes most students to earn an undergraduate degree from Oxford University, but while the time taken to earn a degree has remained the same, it’s not the same for The Knowledge. In 1970 The Knowledge took a mere 11 months.

During the period July 2000 to September 2003 the net increase of Licensed cabbies was only 1,429, this at a time when the numbers of Private Hire was exploding.

In a city on the cusp of seeing the white indigenous population overtaken by ‘ethnic minorities’ shockingly as late as 5 years ago 95 per cent of London’s Licensed Taxi Drivers were white. For Private Hire the split is probably the polar opposite.

Naturally those, like me, who have spent approximately 9,000 hours gaining their coveted badge don’t want The Knowledge dumbed down but other incentives should be considered:

  • CCTV installed in all cabs for better security, encouraging drivers to work nights;
  • A direct panic button similar to that installed on buses;
  • Police to be more pro-active in dealing with criminal behaviour committed against cabbies, instead of resorting to the old tired and tested “It’s a civil matter”;
  • More marshalled taxi ranks in central London and the encouraging of taxi sharing by the marshal;
  • Greater advertising of the plethora of ways a black cab can be booked (Hailo, Get Taxi and the main radio circuit’s apps);
  • Road shows and financial incentives to attract young applicants to undertake the Knowledge of London.

Should you need information about undertaking The Knowledge a CD and accompanying book is available.

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