London Lantern

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More From Our Politically Incorrect Taxi Driver - Part 4, The Knowledge

28/04/2001, By Sean Farrell

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 23890 votes

“Come one, come all,” I say, as long as you’re a 'fit and proper person' and you have done the Knowledge. The Knowledge, is the cornerstone of the trade, it takes three years without pay; such conditions are too much for many people, and 70% of all those who sign up fail to make it through.

All of a sudden there are those crying out that there are not enough cabs on the street, “You cannot get a cab in London after 10 o’clock” is a frequent complaint.

All the theatres empty out at this time and people are leaving pubs and offices to catch the last train, it is a busy period, but this peak period will only last for an hour or two at the most, it is the other 22 hours that concern London’s cabbies.

It has now been decided by those with a vested interest in it that the Knowledge is at fault. It is too long. Cut it down to about four months, computerise it, and there will be plenty of cabs on the streets.

To cut back on the Knowledge will decimate the trade within a few years. During the last recession the public were complaining that there were too many cabs on the streets looking for work.

I even know of a driver who killed himself because of the pressure, citing the lack of work and the fact that more and more people on the Knowledge were becoming cab drivers.

These people with the vested interest are within our own trade, many hold badges themselves but have not driven a cab since the hansom went out of fashion.

They now run fleets of taxis and are only happy when there yards are empty and all their cabs are out there.

They no longer work to a percentage of the meter reading but set a rental that has to be paid whether or not there is sufficient work out there to be had.

Computerise the Knowledge, and line the pockets of a few proprietors – but only in the short term. If there are too many taxis out there and not enough work, cabbies will return to previous or entirely new employment. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again.

Many years ago I picked up two elderly American ladies from the Hilton Hotel. One of them thrust a piece of paper into my hand, it read, “St. Catherine’s House, and a road somewhere in Deptford, Southeast London.

A horrible job for that time of the morning as it meant I would get out there easily enough but my return into London would be slow and empty.

As I began making my way I pondered why anybody would want to go to Deptford at this time of day, never mind two Americans on holiday.

Then it struck me. “Excuse me for asking”, I said, “But can I ask what it is in Deptford you’re after, as it is a bit off the tourist trail?”

“We are checking up on our families history.”

I had thought that it would be something like that. “Who gave you the address in Deptford?”

“The concierge at the Hilton."

They had actually asked for St. Katherine’s House, where the birth, deaths and marriage records are kept, and the concierge gave them the address of St Catherine’s House (with a C) which is a council house in a run down estate.

There’s a brain that goes with the map book in my head, no computerised or shortened Knowledge could have dealt with that any better.

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