How do we save and change The Knowledge of London taxi test?
Alarm bells are ringing in the cabbie community after data revealed the number of students currently being tested to become London taxi drivers has fallen to its lowest level yet, to just 552.
In November 2019 the number of candidates studying the Knowledge of London (KoL) at the testing stages, otherwise known as ‘Appearances’, dropped below 1,000 for the first time and stood at 943. In addition, 714 candidates had not yet reached the testing stages, but were signed on to the KoL and learning the capital’s road network.
Fast forward post-pandemic restrictions to August 2021 and the number of KoL candidates at the testing stages tumbles further to just 552, and worryingly only a further 363 candidates are currently waiting to reach the testing stages.
The KoL taxi driver test has recently come under scrutiny as industry representatives look for ways to increase the number of students undertaking the training.
What is The Knowledge of London?
As the iconic black cabs can be hailed in the street, taxi drivers must have a thorough knowledge of London within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. Tens of thousands of road names and places of interest must be learnt. This is why taxi drivers have to learn and pass the world-famous Knowledge.
The KoL was introduced as a requirement for taxi drivers in 1865 and completing the test usually takes students three to four years.
How do you get tested on The Knowledge of London?
Each appearance usually consists of four questions about the shortest route between any two points in London. An appearance takes about 20 minutes, and you’ll get a score from A-D.
Depending on your score you will accumulate points; when you have enough you will progress to the next stage when appearances will become more frequent. However, if you get too many Ds, you may be put back to a previous stage.
At Stage 3, appearances are about 56 days apart, at Stage 4 they are about 28 days apart, and at Stage 5 they are about 21 days apart. On average you will have to score on four appearances to accumulate enough points to progress to the next stage.
According to trade sources, a final ‘Suburban’ test has recently been condensed to include fewer routes out of central London into the suburbs to speed up the final testing stage. Upon completion of the ‘Suburban’ test, the KoL student will then be handed their bill and badge to allow them to ply-for-hire as a licensed taxi driver.
There are currently 20,027 licensed taxi drivers in the capital. Of those 17,910 hold All London licences, otherwise known as ‘Green Badges’, and 2,337 hold ‘Yellow‘ Suburban licences.
What changes are being called for?
Let’s start with the obvious measures TfL could take to improve take-up onto the KoL. Scrubbing the fees to sign onto the KoL would be a great start and even subsidising access to KoL schools would speed up the process for students.
There is also an issue when it comes to the advertisement of the role to become a London taxi driver. In the past, word of mouth encouragement from those working within the trade would have been enough. However, with the explosion in social media that has now changed to become more of a hindrance when it comes to recruitment.
Jay Nicola, a driver who passed the KoL in early 2020, said negative drivers play a big part in the lack of recruitment onto The Knowledge. He said:
Drivers claiming it’s ‘dead’ and ‘not worth doing anymore’ are also 100% part of the problem. We all know it’s worth doing and isn’t dead. If it was that bad, they wouldn’t be sat in their cab on a rank having a moan up on Twitter! The doom and gloom this trade brings on itself are shambolic.
Another cabbie added:
Most responses are negative and that’s all I heard from cabbies when I was on the KoL. Sometimes I would get home and wonder if I was wasting my time, but so glad I persevered because I have the best job in the world in my opinion.
There is also the idea that The Knowledge should be better promoted as a career option to young adults leaving A-Level education in the capital.
You must be 18 years old at the time of applying to join the KoL and can only become a licensed taxi driver once you reach 21 years old.
There are not many jobs that will allow a 21-year-old access to starting their own business up in a stable income trade and many argue this is not spoken about enough.
One cabbie who passed the KoL in 2012 said:
At the end of the day this job is the best, and anyone can do it, but you’ve got to do the KoL. I did it because I was getting paid rubbish money and I was determined to pass it to earn better.
One cabbie, Russell Simmons, thought KoL students should be handed an exemption from the Congestion Charge to help them learn the roads. Simmons said:
When they sign on they should be exempt from congestion charge so they can come out during the day. My son did it in a Smart car like many other people but could only come out after 10 pm at night.
And finally, the last one, and possibly the most important, is not being ‘coy’ about the earning potential handed to licensed London taxi drivers.
People sign up on the KoL because there’s a guaranteed job at the end of it, but they need to be told reliably what wage they can expect to be earning from the outset.
Is it worthwhile leaving your current job as a postman, a delivery driver or a private hire driver, to take on the KoL? Financially yes, but how many know that and can trust it’s true?
The question potential KoL students should ask themselves is why so many cabbies don’t leave the industry to go and work in other low paid roles instead.
Like with any job, the role of a taxi driver has its drawbacks and will not be for everyone. If you do not like interacting with people, then this is not the job for you from the outset! But the job is rewarding both financially and in terms of job satisfaction.
Tweaks are needed from everyone connected to the trade, should the KoL survive long-term and they must come now.
• Remove ‘Red Line’ on appearance testing
• Remove fees to start the KoL and look into possible funding options
• Remove Congestion Charge fees for all KoL students
• Remove the need for final ‘Suburban’ runs test
• Promote case studies based on drivers who have recently joined the industry. Was it worth it?
• Promote the true earning potential of the job
• Promote the role of a licensed black cab driver as a long-term career option
• Promote the role on social media via targeted and trusted channels
• Stop the negative ‘doom and gloom’ on social media from those in the trade comparing the industry to decades in the past
• Stop closing road access to licensed taxi drivers to provide long-term confidence in the trade
• Better support from those within the trade to help and mentor those studying.
Reproduced by kind permission of Perry Richardson editor of TaxiPoint the UK taxi industry news source.