Updated: Jun 20, 2022
A full review of the Knowledge of London (KoL) will be released ‘later this year’ with trade representatives hoping for ‘some sensible suggestions’ to help boost the number of students studying to become a cabbie in the capital.
Alarm bells have been ringing in the cabbie community for some time after data revealed the number of students currently being tested to become London taxi drivers has fallen to its lowest level yet, to just 495.
In November 2019 the number of candidates studying the Knowledge of London (KoL) at the testing stages, otherwise known as ‘Appearances’, dropped below 1,000 for the first time and stood at 943. In addition, there were 714 candidates that had not yet reached the testing stages, but were signed on to the KoL and learning the capital’s road network.
Steve McNamara, LTDA General Secretary, said in TAXI Magazine: “It’s no secret that the numbers on the Knowledge of London are down, there are a plethora of reasons for the decline. It began with the damage Uber and the apps did to our income from 2015 until recently, and the pandemic didn’t help – but I think the elephant in the room is the time it now takes to complete.
“I recently saw some graphs showing how over the past 40 years the time taken to complete the KOL from start to finish has gone up from an average of 22 months in 1982 to over 60 months (five years) today. I have heard and read all the reasons for it... more people are doing it part time; London’s more complicated; there are more ‘points’ and my favourite, ‘people are not as dedicated/smart as they were’.
“Of course, London has changed, in 1982 there were still boats at Canary Wharf but equally there were dozens more roads in the City that are now closed and no longer called. There are more hotels and restaurants but also less roads available and less one-way systems, so there are alternatives. It certainly has not gotten three times harder to learn your way around, so what is the real reason it’s now taking so long and is it any surprise that fewer people are prepared to spend five years doing the Knowledge?
“None of this is a particular problem to anyone driving a cab today, in fact the opposite argument is true. Less new cabbies means more business for the existing ones. The problem will start to manifest itself in the years to come, because with the existing taxi driver age profile and so few people either on, or completing the Knowledge, in 8-10 years’ time there will be a shortage of cabs on the streets and our political masters will be looking at alternatives.
“The Knowledge was last reviewed back in 2020 and whilst the number of runs reduced from 470 to 320, the time frame from signing on to getting a licence has continued to increase and at the rate it’s going, by 2025 it will be six years! TfL have been carrying out an in-house review of the entire Knowledge process, looking into every stage and all the time frames. The report is due to be published later this year, let’s hope it has some sensible suggestions that will keep our gold standard but make it achievable in a realistic time frame.”