I’m a big Uber fan. I love the ease of booking with the touch of a button while getting ready for a night out, the short wait time and ability to track my driver as he approaches, and especially pretending Uber rides are free because they go straight to a credit card I hardly use. I’ve used Uber in cities all over the world and always feel safer knowing a ride is just a click away while traveling.
I’ve been to London many times. My first memory of the city was a taxi ride when I was 12 years old. My family had just arrived from Paris, where finding a taxi willing to fit the six of us was impossible. In London, our cabbie cheerfully let us pile into his car and knew exactly where to take us without instructions. He was chatty and interested in our background. Unprompted, he gave us recommendations for restaurants that serve turkey because he knew the next day was Thanksgiving in America. I assumed this was one of the exceptional cab drivers you can occasionally come across in all cities and didn’t think of it again.
When I moved to London last year it quickly became obvious that all London cab drivers are as knowledgeable and generally cheery as the one I had encountered 13 years ago. This might be common knowledge to Londoners and some tourists, but for me, it was news.
1. The Taxi industry has existed in London for over 300 hundred years and is highly regulated. A team called Carriage Office Inspectors roam the London streets conducting random cab checks and fining drivers whose cabs aren’t up to code.
2. All London Black Cabs have a turning radius of exactly 25 ft. enabling them to perform perfect U-turns within London’s main city streets.
3. Cabmen’s Shelters are small green huts that date back hundreds of years and were originally built for cab drivers to have a place to eat and meet with other friends. These Shelters are still in operation in London today.
4. By law, Black Cabs are the only taxi transportation that may be hailed on the street, line up at cabstands, calculate rate by a taximeter, and drive in the bus lanes.
5. Licensed Black Cab drivers are all highly trained through a process called The Knowledge, which is said to be one of the hardest tests, of any kind, in the world. The Knowledge takes around three years to complete. Candidates ride around on mopeds memorizing all 25,000 streets within central London and every destination along the way, which a passenger may wish to be taken.
6. The Knowledge requires a series of oral examinations where examiners ask candidates to recite specific routes from point A to B from memory. Three rounds of testing are required with routes becoming gradually more obscure.
7. According to the London Transportation Department, around a quarter to a third of total applicants successfully complete The Knowledge and gain their Green Badge becoming a licensed Black Cab driver.
Being a London cabbie is a time-honored British tradition and many times passed down through generations. In my experience, they are proud of their career and full of stories, advice, and insight about their beloved city.