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Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Knowledge

In these times of flux and witch hunt, when old institutions are coming under increasing scrutiny and being toppled by modernisation for modernisation's sake, there are many things still in England hanging on, like seasoned limpets, against this swell, that any well rounded Knight will doff his visor to in respect.

In this area of arcane rules that produce a quality result, the Brit's will dig in their heels... and in few other areas will you hear such reverent tones spoken, than about The Knowledge.

If you want to drive and run one of London's black cabs, you have to pass The Knowledge, no ifs, no buts , you have to pass.

Taxicabs are regulated throughout the United Kingdom, but the regulation of taxicabs in London is especially rigorous both with regard to mechanical integrity and driver education.

The taxicab driver is required to be able to decide routes immediately in response to a passenger's request or traffic conditions, rather than stopping to look at a map, rely on satellite navigation or ask a controller by radio. Consequently, the 'Knowledge of London' Examination System, informally known as 'The Knowledge', is the in-depth study of London street routes and places of interest that taxicab-drivers in that city must complete to obtain a licence to operate a black cab. It was initiated in 1865, and has changed little since.

It is the world's most demanding training course for taxicab-drivers, and applicants will usually need at least 12 'Appearances' (attempts at the final test), after preparation averaging 34 months, to pass the examination

The 320 main (standard) routes, or 'runs', through central London of the Knowledge are contained within the 'Blue Book' (officially known as the 'Guide to Learning the Knowledge of London'), produced by the Public Carriage Office which regulates licensed taxis in London. In all some 25,000 streets within a six mile radius of Charing Cross are covered along with the major arterial routes through the rest of London.

A taxicab-driver must learn these, as well as the 'points of interest' along those routes including streets, squares, clubs, hospitals, hotels, theatres, embassies government and public buildings, railway stations, police stations, courts, diplomatic buildings, important places of worship, cemeteries, crematoria, parks and open spaces, sports and leisure centres, places of learning, restaurants and historic buildings.

The Knowledge includes such details as the order of theatres on Shaftsbury Avenue, or the names and order of the side streets and traffic signals passed on a route.

During training would-be cabbies, known as Knowledge boys (or girls), usually follow these routes around London on a motor scooter,

and can be identified by the clipboard fixed to the handlebars and showing details of the streets to be learned that day. Taxi-driver applicants must be 'of good character', meeting strict requirements regarding any criminal record, then first pass a written test which qualifies them to make an 'appearance'.

At appearances, Knowledge boys must, without looking at a map, identify the quickest and most sensible route between any two points in metropolitan London that their examiner chooses. For each route, the applicants must recite the names of the roads used, when they cross junctions, use roundabouts, make turns, and what is 'alongside' them at each point.

So there you have it. Using your brain intensely, in the computer like fashion it is capable of, is still revered and honoured to an almost holy degree in the UK.., so the next time you are sat in the back of a Black Cab, bear this in mind, before you open your mouth to say " shouldn't you have gone that way?"

Sir Dayvd (the London Eye) of Oxfordshire


  1. "Arcane rules that produce a quality result!" I love it! Only a Brit can pull that one off! So true...and yet so effective.

    I can't wait to plant my arse again in a black cab come July! London was my first major city to take a Taxi back in 1979. Imagine my disappointment when I got in a taxi back in the States!

    The Knowledge is indeed impressive. In contrast, get in a cab in New York. It's a crap shoot...literally.

    My last, and final, Taxi ride in New York was with a first day Iraqi who couldn't speak English and didn't know how to get me from Manhattan to Laguardia airport! Something this country boy from Indiana knew how to do. Of course he wouldn't listen to me, or probably couldn't understand me, and the result, we ended up lost in Queens and got caught in the middle of a gun fight between the police and a car load of gun happy drug dealers in front of us. Since then I always prefer to take my chances on the subway.

    Shit like that doesn't happen in a London Black Cab!

    Sir Hook Who Only Takes a Taxi in London of Warrick

  2. I reckon we must of had his cousin then... as on the most recent trip over we got picked up at Newark at 1am... and we asked to head downtown to 20th st west...... we got there only after we had been dumped outside a derelict looking place on 135th and Madison..near the Harlem river..for half an hour with the engine running... while he said he had some "Business" to attend to. After a great deal of foreign yelling going on inside the dark building, we end up with not only a new driver, but another passenger, who was clearly another unhappy cousin.. We agreed, that if we got there alive, not to tip him.

    Man, those black cabs are sweet.

    Sir D ( the Subways are okay to ) of Londonfordshire

  3. I think here, they are required to have a valid driver's license. I think. :-)