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So what next for the Knowledge? These talks, as informal as they were, did highlight the growing issue surrounding the Knowledge. How drivers and groups present the trade to the outside world has a huge impact on confidence both internally and externally. Social media is a powerful tool and a negative industry can quickly detract those first looking to enter the industry. Recent advertising by London Taxi PR will help attract those the industry needs to survive long term.


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The group run by Lee Sheppard relies solely on donations from fellow drivers to promote the trade positively. London Uber driver found guilty of running prostitution ring and money laundering. Cabbies complain that makes for an unequal playing field , but the drivers I spoke with aren't fazed. They proudly defend the Knowledge and insist they couldn't do their job as well without it. To better understand how cabbies learn the Knowledge, I visited Wizann , a Knowledge school near London City Airport where hopeful cab drivers can get extra help.

Dean Warrington, the school's founder and a former cabbie, let me attend an hour-long evening class. With its fluorescent lights and dull-patterned carpet, the classroom looks like any other.

London taxi drivers develop a different part of the brain

Except, that is, for the large maps of London on two walls, and, on top of each student's desk, another map covered in plastic film. The purpose of the class is to review a few runs, or the routes through London that cabbies have to learn. Each student has a list of runs that were asked about during the previous day in appearances, or the one-on-one oral exams with the London transit authority that are part of the Knowledge process.

Does London’s taxi test “The Knowledge” need saving? | TaxiPoint Taxi News | UK | Black cabs

Warrington calls out the first one: Willesden Junction to Angel Underground station. The 13 students 12 men and one woman lean over their maps to trace the run with dry-erase markers. As a fellow student traces his directions on a map, hopeful driver Jake Whincup calls out a run across southern London from memory. Next to me is Jake Whincup, a physical education teacher by day and Knowledge student by night. He talks for a few minutes with the student sharing his table about the best way to go, but when he settles on a route, he closes his eyes and slowly calls out the turns from memory.

His focus is so powerful, I'm sure that if I could peer into his brain, I'd see synapses firing. It's mesmerizing to watch. As Whincup works, Warrington stops to talk to another student, Hussein he declined to give his full name. As they talk about whether it's best to always go over or under Regent's Park always go under , Warrington gently corrects Hussein's first set of turns. Warrington then calls on a few students to plot their runs. When no one gets it exactly correct, he spills out the directions as casually as if he were a waiter rattling off salad dressing choices.

A debate breaks out over whether you can turn left on a certain road remember, you're driving on the left. Whinchup uses Google Streetview on his phone to check for sure. At the Sherbet Knowledge school, Joe Pearson shows how students use a fabric cord to draw a straight line between two points.

Later, as he tracks a different run Wandsworth County Court to Belsize Park Underground station , Whincup uses a fabric cord to draw a straight line between the two points. Warrington says the idea is to use that line as a guide when planning your run and try to keep as close to it as possible. Wizann founder Dean Warrington left urges his students to always take the shortest route between two points, even if it's not the fastest route.

Hop in a black cab they're officially called " Hackney Carriages " to see The Knowledge in action. Name your destination and you'll typically get a nod in response. One examiner, Tony Swire, likes to quiz candidates about their lives and use that information to concoct runs, off the top of his head, that flaunt his own vast London Knowledge. At Knowledge Point, McCabe explained the quirks of various examiners.

There was Mr. Gunning, who favors runs with difficult strictures: He likes to impose road closures, or to ask candidates to do runs while steering clear of streets with traffic lights. Gerald, one of two women examiners, specializes in runs with lots of novel points. They have a nickname for him. Everyone calls him the Smiling Assassin.

Taxicabs of the United Kingdom

David Hall is, in fact, quick with a smile. He wears rimless glasses and dark suits and ties. I met him one afternoon at the LTPH office. He was sitting at the desk where he conducts examinations, with a large London map and various notes spread out in front of him. He nodded slightly towards the area down the hall where Knowledge candidates wait to be called in for appearances. Like all examiners, he is a cabbie, a Knowledge graduate with many years of taxi-driving on his CV. He left school at age 16, and got a job in the confectionery department at Harrods before becoming an electronics engineer.

At age 27, he decided to try for a career as a cabbie. Hall had a keen sense of direction and had always loved maps. He passed the Knowledge in less than two years. Hall became an examiner in , and soon developed the reputation that earned him the Smiling Assassin moniker: He was a kind man, with a warm, welcoming manner, who asked very difficult runs.

It is common knowledge among test-takers that Hall supports Crystal Palace, the football team based in South East London, and that he lives somewhere nearby. He is known, and feared, for giving vexing South London runs. Matt McCabe had Hall in two appearances, when he was on his 28s. Hall is also known for doing his homework. Examiners have to burnish their own Knowledge to keep a step ahead of examinees, reviewing road closures and traffic patterns, and, in their spare time, hitting the streets to pick up new points.

Hall is a dedicated pointer. When I told a Knowledge boy that I was planning to interview Mr. We walked north, crossing the Millennium Bridge, which links the South Bank of the Thames with the City of London, and then turned east, following the thrumming traffic along Queen Victoria Street.

At a corner, Hall started scribbling notes. Is Queen Victoria Street curving there? Is Friday Street going north? A Knowledge candidate needs to take a mental picture of the road or the arrow there.

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Just west of the intersection, on the north side of Queen Victoria Street, stood an elegant old church, with a spire that jutted above the surrounding buildings. Nicholas Cole Abbey. In fact, the church predated Wren by several centuries, but it was destroyed in the Great Fire, and Wren rebuilt it. It is said that the Knowledge is as much about learning history as learning your way around. Toward evening, we made our way back along Queen Victoria Street, passing a massive three-acre building site, the future home of Bloomberg L. The construction project had revealed further remains of the Temple of Mithras, a Roman ruin first discovered in The temple once stood on the banks of the Walbrook, a now-buried river that brought fresh water to Roman Londinium.

If you were a Roman soldier, one of the ordeals was to put you over a fire pit. If you could withstand that particular ordeal, you went to the next stage in that religion. There really is no end to the Knowledge. The test-takers of a century ago who tottered their way to the Knowledge on bicycles earned a heady reward: not just a green badge, but something close to a guaranteed living.

For years, the black taxi industry has decried minicabs as an inferior service that poaches business rightfully belonging to Knowledge graduates. But many consumer advocates regard minicabs as a welcome corrective — a reasonably priced alternative to black taxis, whose hefty fares are beyond the reach of most Londoners. In theory, there are rules in place that offer advantages to traditional London cabbies: Theirs are the only rides that can legally be hailed on the street. But times are changing, and curbside hailing may soon be as quaint a relic of old London as the clubman striding through Mayfair in his bowler hat and boutonniere.

Recently, the London taxi trade has been roiled by the rise of Uber, the smartphone app-based ride-sharing company. The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, a black-cab advocacy group, has brought a series of lawsuits against Uber drivers.

Number of people studying The Knowledge to be a All London Taxi Driver

In his public statements on the matter, the mayor has walked a fine line. Taxi drivers counter such claims by pointing out that black cabs have triumphed in staged races against cars using GPS, or as the British call it, Sat-Nav. Such arguments may hold for a while.

Share your voice

But given the pace of technological refinement, how long will it be before the development of a Sat-Nav algorithm that works better than the most ingenious cabbie, before a voice-activated GPS, or a driverless car, can zip a passenger from Piccadilly to Putney more efficiently than any Knowledge graduate? The Knowledge stands for, well, knowledge — for the Enlightenment ideal of encyclopedic learning, for the humanist notion that diligent intellectual endeavor is ennobling, an end in itself.

The Knowledge says that London is Holy Writ, a great mystery to be pored over, and that a corps of municipal Talmudists must be delegated to that task. Like most cabbies and Knowledge boys, Matt McCabe worries about the future of the taxi business. But in January , he had more pressing concerns.

A few days after his visit to Fish Island, McCabe went on an appearance and scored a B, leaving him with 10 points, just two shy of his goal. Barring a calamity, a brain-freeze, it seemed a foregone conclusion that his next appearance would be his last. He made sure he was cleanly shaven, that his shoes were polished, his suit pristine. He took the train into London, disembarked at London Bridge station, and walked to the LTPH office at a measured pace, trying to keep his heart-rate steady.

He arrived with time to spare and took his seat in the waiting area with a dozen or so other Knowledge candidates. At around 2 p. McCabe sat down and breezed through his first three runs. He was nervous, but his calls, he thought, were solid. Surely it was a done deed now? McCabe closed his eyes. McCabe closed his eyes again, to make sure he saw the line clearly. Then he called the run:.


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  • It was a nearly seven-mile-long journey, due north, from Camberwell to Holloway, in Islington, north-central London. Welcome to the club. Three years of complete financial stress, family stress — studying for 13 hours a day, seven days a week. Suddenly, the whole thing was very casual. He was giving me his inside knowledge after being a London cabbie for, like, odd years.