Pay a visit to London and a black mini cab will probably be one the the first things you will see. The London taxi drivers are almost as famous as the black cabs in which they drive, this is mainly due to their in-depth knowledge of London and ability in taking their occupants to their desired destination amid the congestion and the chaos that you often find when travelling through London’s streets.
Easy you might think with the world of sat navs? Think again. Hail down a black cab in London and you can be assured that the driver will know the shortest and quickest route to your destination without the aid of a satnav. It doesn’t matter if you give them a street name, a famous landmark, a hotel name or famous point of interest, they will know exactly where it is and they will get you to it in the shortest route possible.
London taxi drivers go through stringent training to obtain their licence, they need to pass “The Knowledge”, a test which is amongst the hardest to pass in the world, it has been described as like having an atlas of London implanted into your brain. No two days are ever the same for London cabbies, they just never know who is going to be climbing into the back of their cabs. Taxi drivers meet people from all walks of life, the rich and famous, arguing couples and tourists who always have a question or two that they would like answering. Add this factor to the amount you can earn as a London taxi driver and it is a career many feel is well worth the effort.
An effort that requires you to memorise every possible route through the city as well as memorising landmarks and points of interest, museums, parks, police stations, churches, theatres and schools and not just the famous landmarks like Buckingham Palace and Nelsons Column. The hardest of all taxi driver tests in the world is how many have described “The London Knowledge” a reputation which very few would argue with.
To become an All-London taxi driver or Green badge holder you need to master no fewer than 320 basic routes, all of the 25,000 streets that are scattered within the basic routes and approximately 20,000 landmarks and places of public interest that are located within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. This is where The Blue book is required, a handbook for budding taxi drivers which contains all of these routes and landmarks.
It takes the average person between 2 and 4 years to learn the knowledge, a lot however depends on how much time and effort they are willing to dedicate in learning it. Many students print off pages from the Blue Book which you can download by clicking here and using a moped they go over and over a route at a time until they have mastered it before moving on to the next one. A big advantage of having the blue book in digital format is the ability to print off pages when required. Could you imagine riding around with a hardback version only to have it destroyed by the English weather.
Becoming a London taxi driver isn’t something you can achieve in a few weeks, days or even months not unless you have a brain like superman. Because the use of sat navs is prohibited, remembering the many points of interest and quickest routes across London can take two to three years to master and often even longer. Below we have broken down the stages of becoming a London cabbie into easy digestible segments:
1) Send off for an application pack including a medical assessment form in writing to:
The Public Carriage Office
15, Penton Street
2) Get yourself a copy of the Blue Book and start learning the routes, the quicker you start learning the quicker you can put in for a test.
3) Receive your application pack, fill it in and send it off with your medical report and character checks.
4) Receive a reply from the PCO
5) When ready sit the first self assessment (Usually within the first 6 months and is optional).
6) Sit the written examination.
7) Sit several ‘Appearance’ (1-2-1 oral tests) tests.
8) Final Talk and Obtain your licence.
One – Write to the Public Carriage Office 15 Penton Street, London N1 9PU and request an application pack.
Two – Get yourself a copy of the Blue Book and start learning the routes, the quicker you know the routes the sooner you can become a Cabbie. My advice would be to download yourself a copy, having it in a digital format means you are able to print off a route at a time and work on it. Depending on your style of learning and assuming you will be driving the route in either a car or on a moped having a single page for reference is far easier than carrying a book around with you. This way you can get on with it while waiting for a reply from the PCO.
Three – Fill in the forms and send them back with the relevant documents;
a) Medical and Character Check: After requesting an application pack to become a London taxi driver the Public Carriage Office (PCO) will request that you visit your family doctor for a DVLA Group 2 medical examination. You must have been under this doctor for at least 12 months. The medical covers many areas of your health and fitness including; heart problems, black outs, diabetes, epilepsy or psychiatric problems that you might have had.
b) The character check is usually in the form of a criminal record check, if you have any convictions ensure you state them when applying.
Four – Assuming all is fine with your application you will receive a Knowledge of London introductory pack which includes a DVD and a copy of The Guide to learning the Knowledge of London.
Five – When you have managed to learn the first 80 runs you can contact the PCO and arrange to sit a self assessment test. This is a written test where you mark your own paper with a tutor present who will help you with any concerns or questions. The tutor will talk you through the answers informing you of how well or poorly you have done. This is an optional test that you can take to see if you are on the right track, it counts as nothing towards the final tests and no results are stored.
Six – The written test is in two stages and to progress you must obtain a 60% pass mark. Stage one tests your knowledge of the routes contained within the book, it is multiple choice, you will be given three routes from location A to location B and you must identify the shortest route. Stage two tests you on the points of interest also contained within the Blue Book, again multiple choices, you are given a point of interest and four possible locations and you must pick the correct location.
Seven – There are three oral exams known better as appearance tests. The tests last between 20 and 30 minutes and evolve around an examiner asking you the location of two different points of interest. You must know where each one is and also be able to tell the examiner the best way of getting from one to the other in the shortest time. Each appearance test increases with difficulty as you progress.
Eight – Assuming all the previous sections are adequately completed you will be invited along to apply for your green badge licence to become a London taxi driver. It is a case of turning up, showing your driving licence and paying the licence fee.
If this all seems daunting remember; Assuming you are healthy and have no serious criminal record then becoming a London cabbie boils down one thing, your knowledge of London. If you know all the possible routes and points of interest like the back of your hand then you are going to sail it. Learning the routes and points of interest contained in the Blue Book is all it really takes to become a London taxi driver, the sooner you learn them the quicker you will obtain that green badge licence.
Have you got what it takes to become a London taxi driver and gain yourself the respect of being amongst the best taxi drivers in the world? Some have said and maybe hoped that the London Knowledge will become easier because with so much technology around surely one day black cab drivers will be allowed to use satellite navigation in their quest to gain their green badge licence? The answer is no, satellite navigation will never be permitted as an aid to learning the Knowledge, you are going to have to do it the hard way getting yourself a blue book of runs and learning each of the routes and points of interest.
The following youtube clip explains why an experienced London mini cab driver will always beat and be better than any satellite navigation aid, one quick example, a tourist jumps in your cab and asks to go the the nearest McDonalds? – Not something your sat nav can help you with is is. You might not believe it now but watch the clip and listen to how many valid points and genuine real life experiences of why a sat nav would be of no use for this London taxi driver.
If remembering the 320 knowledge runs isn’t hard enough in itself to learn in order to become a London cab driver what about the 30,000 points of interest? It can seem a daunting task and it does put some people off but that is what separates those that become London black cab drivers and those that are not up to it. There is no right or wrong way to learn the points of interest, some have found it easier learning the points of interest first before attempting the runs while others have found that they pick the landmarks up better while doing and practicing the runs.
Now for a reality check, once you have passed the knowledge test are you really going to remember all 30,000 points of interest? Of course you are not. My tip would be for you to concentrate on the more obscure points of interest, you probably know already where Big Ben and London Bridge is, I doubt very much that you are going to be asked to tell the examiner where these are located. You are more likely to get asked where the only Nazi memorial in London is situated – Waterloo Place / Outside 9 Carlton House Terrace. If a tourist climbed into your cab asking to see this it is more likely that they will ask you to take them to see Giro the Nazi Dog.
The next question is where does one start learning these points of interest? You could type a search into Google for ‘london points of interest’ and get an online map with around 100 various points scattered around, it won’t get you very far though. If you are serious about learning the London Knowledge you will need to get yourself a Blue Book of runs containing all the routes and landmark points or download yourself a copy.
Before anyone is allowed to drive one of the famous London black cabs they will need to pass a test known commonly as The Taxi Knowledge or London Knowledge. There are two types of licence which a taxi driver can apply for; the first is a yellow badge or suburban licence. Passing this test enables the driver to select from one of the nine suburban sectors in the city of London. On passing the test the taxi driver will be restricted to routes and work in his or her selected area. Below is a map of the nine areas in their respected numbered segments.
Many drivers concentrate on one particular sector and once they have obtained their licence they then apply and expand into neighbouring areas. There is nothing to stop anyone applying for more than one suburban area as there is no limit however if you are considering more than two sectors you may as well apply for a Green badge licence which gives the taxi driver a distinguised green badge licence to cover the whole area with an All London Licence.
Before assuming that this will be an easy task there is one very important factor to remember, you will need to remember and familiarise yourself with all the possible routes as sattelite navigation aids are not permitted. Not only will you need to remember each and every route but some 30,000 points of interest which includes schools, landmarks, police stations and tourist attractions.
So how long does it take the average person to learn the London Knowledge? On average between 3 and 5 years but it really depends on the individual, how serious are they about passing, how committed are they and how much time can they dedicated to learning the routes? Without a doubt they are going to need to Download The Blue Book of runs containing each of the routes and landmarks.