The Knowledge is in crisis. Student numbers are falling, Knowledge schools are closing or amalgamating. However, the problems with the KOL do not stand alone but are a symptom of wider problems in the taxi trade. If these problems are resolved, the KOL problems will largely resolve themselves. Attempting to isolate and resolve the problems specifically associated with the KOL, without reference to the wider problems, will be doomed to failure.
The London taxi trade is in crisis, possibly terminally so. Knowledge student numbers are at an unprecedented low . A quarter of existing drivers are 60 years of age or older. Less than 2% are under 30, resulting in overall driver numbers falling month on month and week on week.
Many drivers will retire or semi-retire n the near future, seriously reducing supply but many of these will not surrender their licence as it has no tradable value.
The shape of this age demographics a fairly recent phenomenon as baby boomers have reached retirement age. The result is that not even TFL themselves know the true number of working drivers and by what percentage this has fallen over recent years.
Meanwhile, the taxi fleet is reducing in size, month on month and week on week as new taxis fail to keep up with the number going out of service. Since the arrival of the new ZEC taxi this year at a cost increase of nearly 50%, only one new taxi is being added to the fleet for every 10 going out of service.
This fleet reduction should see rentals struggle to satisfy demand. This was certainly the case when the 15 year age limit was first applied and reduced the fleet. This time however, fleets are reporting that they are unable to rent all their stocks.
The corollary of this is a combination of falling driver numbers and income, plummeting student numbers, a reducing taxi fleet and unrented taxis. The only reasonable conclusion is the taxi trade is in serious decline. Unless preventative measures are taken, the taxi service could quickly become untenable as a vital part of London’s transport service.
Both the taxi trade and the GLA transport committee recognised this when they worked collectively to produce the 2014 “Future Proof” document intended to secure the trade’s future.
Unfortunately, the report’s recommendations have been largely ignored by The Mayor and TFL. All the problems identified by “Future Proof” are still relevant but the situation has worsened because no action has been taken to rectify them.