Previously Posted: Is that Marble Arch TomTom?

For those new to CabbieBlog or readers who are slightly forgetful, on Saturdays I’m republishing posts, many going back over a decade. Some will still be very relevant while others have become dated over time. Just think of this post as your weekend paper supplement.

Is that Marble Arch TomTom? (24.03.09)

It looks like L’Arc de triomphe to me.

TomTom (so good they named it twice).

In order to earn your license to operate a London Black Cab, a taxi driver has to pass a gruelling examination known as “The Knowledge” which involves memorizing every street and location of public buildings within a six mile radius of Charing Cross railway station. On top of this, we have to know some 320 specified routes through the city that include all the points of interest within a quarter of a mile of the endpoint, and know this off by heart. Think that is tough enough, well there is more: all the major routes in and out of the London suburbs need to be memorized as well. And to pass The Knowledge, and get that coveted license, we have to pass a rigorous exam which includes reciting a precise route from any two points that the examiner fancies. No wonder it can take at least three years to pass, and often very much longer. If you see people on scooters with a clipboard and map attached to the handlebars driving around London, chances are they are doing The Knowledge which can involve travelling up 26,000 miles across the City on our Honda C90’s memorizing those thousands of places of interest, all the one-way streets, no right turns, landmarks and street names.

When I did The Knowledge little did I realise that as time moved on every postcode would also have to be committed to memory. It’s these SatNavs that are to blame you see we Cabbies are constantly given only postcodes as our customers’ destination. So why do we bother with The Knowledge? After all, GPS based SatNav systems are cheap and plentiful and know all this stuff without requiring us to look like the world’s oldest pizza delivery boy. The private taxi companies, known as minicabs in the London have long since realized this. The biggest and most successful firms all have SatNav in their cars, yet according to the London Taxi Drivers’ Association less than 5 per cent of Black Cab drivers are using these devices.

Yet I cannot help but think we London Cabbies have it right: we know the streets better than just about any SatNav device. We don’t try and drive the wrong way up a one way street, we don’t think we should turn left even when it’s obvious the car isn’t going to fit down that alleyway, and we don’t get stumped when a roundabout has been constructed that isn’t yet on the map. More importantly, and this includes even the new breed of device with traffic reporting built in, we know instinctively to avoid a certain street at a certain time because a different route will be quicker.

What’s more, we know that you can get from A to B quicker via C today because of all the road works and temporary traffic lights springing up everywhere (see previous blog).

The truth is that there is more to getting around a city like London than simply knowing the street map, local knowledge is King. And if someone produced a SatNav system with mapping that was up to The Knowledge standard I would not only buy it, I would invest in the company as well. As long as it does not start lecturing me about politics and sport along the way, that is.

Now TomTom take me to the Texas Legation Memorial please and be quick about it.

PS It’s in Pickering Place SW1 just in case you wondered.

4 thoughts on “Previously Posted: Is that Marble Arch TomTom?”

  1. Always admired the London Black Cab drivers ability, I’ve seen some great back street cut throughs thinking to myself this guys taking me for a ride here only to see further on the traffic jam he skillfully avoided.

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    1. Unfortunately many of the cut throughs are now blocked off. So much for The Knowledge. Thanks for your support and comment.

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  2. I still don’t own a Satnav, and have never used the one available on my phone. My wife swears by both though, and goes everywhere following the directions given to her. If she lost the signal or the battery ran out, she would have no idea where she was!
    Cheers, Pete.

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