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BECOMING A TAXI DRIVER: What drove me to complete the Knowledge of London and was it worth it?

There’s a slow drop in the number of London taxi drivers, with very few starting the famous ‘Knowledge of London’ (KOL) licensing process to replace them.

The job is a rewarding one, yes albeit with some pressures that come with the running of any business, that should offer people stuck in lower paid jobs a way out. However, the profile of the KOL has diminished among the current generation and respect for the work cabbies carry out on a daily basis has dropped since the arrival of ride-hailing apps over the last decade.

Since final coronavirus restrictions were dropped in early 2022 that tide may well have started to turn though.

Despite the ongoing economic crisis and a drop in driver numbers, cabbies have seen demand for their services reach their highest levels for some time. That demand isn’t expected to go anywhere soon as older generation taxi drivers get set to retire in the coming years.

Trades usually work on a supply and demand basis. When the number of plumbers are low, the current ones are making a good living and that in turn pushes more people to train up on the tools. Will the same happen for London’s cab trade?

What made me want to do the Knowledge?

Let’s give you some background. I grew up in a working class family living in a council house in South London where university was never an option or spoken about. My school grades were good despite not really getting any guidance, but it didn’t really matter as the only expectation placed on me from a young age was that I would just go out into the world and graft.

I wasn’t interested in manual work, but had no idea what I wanted to do after that. My first full-time job was in a bank as a cashier. Hated it, but it was good entry level experience. I was twenty years younger than the rest of the team and refused to sell banking products to people that didn’t really need them. I lasted just over 12 months before turning up one morning with a bag stuffed full of my uniform telling them that was me done.

After that I did some temporary agency work and discovered the charity sector for the first time. It was full of younger ambitious people that were looking to make a difference. As a nineteen-year-old I was applying for roles against graduates. Had a few knock-backs, but then someone took a chance on me at Cancer Research UK. Looking back I’ll be forever grateful for that chance, as it got me through the doors and allowed me to show what I could do.

I spent over nine years at that organisation in a number of different roles ranging from customer service, database management and marketing. Despite progressing and enjoying my work, it became evident that unless I got a really senior role in the organisation I would always struggle financially. To achieve any senior role is difficult as it’s not always just about talent. It’s whether your faces fits and your future rests in the hands of those above you. It was clear that I’d never be able to buy a house or support a family any time soon, or if at all, if I was to stay in the sector.

In 2005, at the age of 24, I decided to look at the trades as a long-term way out. My godfather was a cabbie and had a family, big house and skiing holidays every year. This was the long-term lifestyle I wanted and the job I set my sights on.

Life changed at the point I applied to become a London Black Cab driver in several ways.

I met my future wife during a trip to Peru and had a long-distance relationship with her as she was studying in St Andrews, Scotland. Every other weekend was spent on the train travelling up the east-coast of Scotland, reciting KOL runs during the six-hour journey.

I had broken my collar bone playing football a week or two into starting the ‘Blue Book Runs’ which is the KOL training all cabbies must complete first. That meant time off the bike and my learning stalled. Despite playing football all my life, I quit playing the game. Risking further delays wasn’t an option.

I used to be out a lot at functions and pubs with friends and work colleagues... I think that’s a polite way of saying I enjoyed a pint! That changed quickly and scheduling in when my next Blue Book runs would be done became tight. Essentially your social life goes on hold during the KOL process.

Eventually, in September 2009 after four long-years I reached the required standard and had achieved my All London Taxi Licence. It was at that point I quit my career and began a new one as a taxi driver.

Was it worth it and is it still worth it?

Absolutely. There are a lot of sacrifices during the KOL years, but the rewards have been worth it. Within a year of being a cabbie we had put down a deposit on our first house. That was an achievement that I’d always felt was out of reach. I was now my own boss. I could work flexible hours and I could take time off to play golf and go on amazing holidays around the world. My social life returned and money wasn’t ever as tight as it was before.

The job also gives you the freedom and opportunity to try other work ventures. With my marketing experience and knowledge in the taxi industry I was able to set up TaxiPoint. Once you’ve obtained your badge it's a job for life and allows you to break and return to it as much as you like.

Today I remain a full-time taxi driver and still enjoy the job thirteen years on. From humble beginnings I now find myself living in the Cotswolds, supporting a young family and opportunities aplenty.

Yes there are challenges, but every job sector has them. Becoming a London taxi driver provided a way out and that opportunity remains open to anyone that wants to take it.


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