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THE KNOWLEDGE: Tough test for the future of the world's hardest taxi driver exam

Known around the world as the toughest taxi test on the planet, the Knowledge of London has never pulled any punches when it comes to creating some of the very best professional drivers the industry has to offer.

But the course, which requires 100% commitment and dedication for a period usually between 3 to 5 years, has seen a worrying drop in students, with numbers currently sitting at just over 1,300 as of November 2020 according to Transport for London (TfL) data. And only 155 of those are at the final stages of the Knowledge.

For any industry or sector to really flourish and have a prosperous future, it’s important for ‘new blood’ to continuously come through and revitalise numbers at a steady pace. Becoming a London taxi driver always offered a nice reward if you were willing to put the hours in, but in exchange you would have to commit to the trade way before ever getting near a badge.

With the year we’ve just had, which has seen the hospitality and transport industry hit extremely hard by the pandemic, those who may have been considering the long journey to becoming one of London’s finest cabbies, will no doubt be thinking twice about what awaits them at the finish line.

But should current taxi drivers take some responsibility for the lack of students on the course? Well, according to one of the capital’s largest and well-known Knowledge schools, the answer is yes.

Dean Warrington, Founder of Wizann and a London cab driver of nearly 25 years, told TaxiPoint: “The major factor contributing to the continual decline of Knowledge students, is the negativity expressed by a percentage of drivers. The ‘game’s dead’ drivers’ views are being expressed far more often than the neutral to positive views that also exist.

“Students and potential students are being instantly discouraged by the un-inspirational words being expressed. “Driving a taxi in London is still a fantastic job and opportunity. Too many people fail to realise what the alternatives are in terms of the current job market. For someone over the age of 40, with no previous qualifications or experience in other fields, driving a taxi would most certainly be a great prospect.”

Some would of course argue that there are no better people to analyse the industry than the ones who are currently working in it. The ‘game’s dead’ gang have been shouting loudly way before any global pandemic fired shots at the traditional taxi market and things have only got worse at least in the short term.

Dean went on to add: “The other major issue is the amount of Taxi Drivers who use social media with no concept of the PR consequences. When you read a story of a customer dissatisfied with an Uber journey, it would help the trade greatly if the responses from licensed taxi drivers were not along the lines of ‘it’s your own fault for being stupid for getting an Uber in the first place’.

“In these instances, if you are unable to say anything positive, then you really should say noting. We are not creating much support or sympathy for our current situation with the amount of anger being publicly expressed by some drivers.

“We are our own worst enemy sometimes and we need to separate the views we express when talking freely in private, from the way we are being presented and presenting ourselves on social media platforms.”

When social media is used correctly it is a great platform to promote any industry or sector, but if not used wisely it can also tarnish a brand and those who represent it, as Dean highlights. But what about those who oversee the industry? Those who take the licensing fees? How much are they doing to ensure a vibrant future for the trade?

In this case, TfL are the governing body for the taxi trade in the capital. TaxiPoint has approached TfL for their views on the decline in Knowledge students and asked what plans they have in place to help rebuild trust in the future of the trade to encourage more people to commit to the long journey to obtain a green (all London) taxi badge. TfL are yet to comment and therefore it remains unclear exactly what lies ahead for the world’s toughest taxi test.

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