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Resurgence of "The Knowledge": Why are private hire drivers looking to shift to Black Cabs?

Transport for London (TfL) sources have reported a notable uptick in participants and new applicants undertaking "The Knowledge" this year. This increase is largely attributed to an innovative initiatives by FREENOW, Gett and Addison Lee who have offered to support private hire vehicle (PHV) drivers in their pursuit of mastering London's exhaustive topography—a prerequisite for transitioning to the iconic black cab profession.

But why would a PHV driver think about ‘upgrading’ to become a black cab driver?  The driving force behind this migration is unequivocally financial. PHV drivers, traditionally dependent on operators for job allocations, face substantial deductions from their earnings, with commissions to operators soaring over 30% per job in some cases. In an effort to stay competitive, these operators resort to offering rides at marginally lower rates than those of their Hackney carriage counterparts. However, the allure of keeping a bigger percentage of the earnings, autonomy, and the revered status associated with black cabs is tempting a growing number of PHV drivers to embark on the rigorous journey of acquiring "The Knowledge".

Why Make the Move?

The pandemic's aftermath has seen a consistent demand for black cab services, against a dwindling number of taxi drivers and available vehicles. This demand, coupled with the flexibility black cabs offer—allowing drivers to work independent of operators, pick up street hails and jobs from taxi ranks, and select apps charging significantly lower commissions—paints a lucrative picture for current PHV drivers and other new applicants.

Understanding "The Knowledge"

"The Knowledge of London" is a formidable process that requires prospective black cab drivers to demonstrate an intimate understanding of London's labyrinthine streets and myriad points of interest. Established in 1865, this comprehensive examination process mandates candidates to memorise 15,000 streets and approximately 10,000 landmarks and places of public interest within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross.

Candidates embark on a challenging journey that spans several years, involving self-study, on-street exploration, and a series of stringent oral exams known as "Appearances". During these exams, applicants must illustrate their ability to navigate the fastest or most efficient routes between any two points in the city, without the aid of maps or GPS technology.

This rigorous preparation ensures that black cab drivers meet the ‘required standard’ and becomes part of an enduring symbol of London's unique transport heritage.

The shift of PHV drivers towards acquiring "The Knowledge" and operating black cabs represents a significant trend in London's transportation landscape. It highlights a collective pursuit for better earnings, autonomy, and the esteemed privilege of navigating the city's streets as a black cab driver.


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