The way London’s cab drivers are tested for operating licences could change radically, if recommendations in a Kingston University report are adopted.
The London Taxi Cabs Case Study, led by Dr Walter Skok from the Kingston Business School, outlines the complex issues involved in changing the current system.It also suggests the learning and testing process could be speeded up using computer technology.
Applicants for a black cab licence presently go through a rigorous two to three year examination process known as The Knowledge. They are required to learn 320 runs linking more than 25,000 streets within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross and memorise the location of such places as hotels, restaurants and city landmarks.
“When cabbies first learn The Knowledge, they go about it on mopeds and rely entirely on a map to create a picture in their minds,” Dr Skok said. “The drivers are then given strict interviews, which tend to inhibit their performance.” The cabbies are continually assessed, with the number of days between interviews determined by how many mistakes they make.
The system has remained almost the same for more than 150 years and now the pressure is on for reform. A change in the law recently opened the way to common testing and licensing for minicabs as well as black taxis. There is also increasing public demand, backed by local government and transport authorities, for safe, improved, round-the-clock cab services in the capital.
Dr Skok’s proposals to manage the changes take into account the views of all the stakeholders in the London taxi business. Black cab drivers opposed any reduction in established standards while minicab companies feared they would be unreasonably high, he explained.
Although testing by computer was still a long way off, it could prove the ideal solution. Dr Skok’s study suggests that computers could save a lot of time, helping cabbies learn rapidly and give quick answers to the examination questions, which would be checked automatically. However, any new system would have to be accepted by all parties. London has more than 23,000 black cabs and an estimated 60,000 minicabs.