The Knowledge, as decreed by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell over 350 years ago is the worlds most intensive topographical examination, it is a byword for excellence within the the people-moving industry and is so difficult that its known to physiologically alter the section of the brain known as hippocampus. It has, however been revealed to us that the knowledge may be under serious threat. Figures obtained via a Freedom Of Information Act request have revealed that there has been an alarming decrease in individuals undertaking the knowledge.
The figures above show a gradual decrease of 74.66% since 2010/11. This is an astonishing figure, with the biggest drop in students between 2014/15 and 2015/16. This now begs the question as to why?, and what of the future of the licensed London taxi industry.
The whys are a complicated amalgam of issues, no one issue dominates proceedings. Anybody within the industry will understandably point the finger first and foremost at Uber, followed by Transport for London, taxi organisations and unions, the media and various news organisations and finally the public.
The Uber effect has of course had a major effect but let's not forget that if Uber weren't here then there would be another company making an incursion into London, Taxify, Via (Lyft) to name but two. Uber act within their own remit, disrupt, destroy and over-run. Uber are not the singular nor the main problem.
We then have to look toward the actions of Transport for London compounding the initial issue. Too many within the industry Transport for London issued Uber with a private hire operators license under the shroud of illegality because Uber allegedly did not meet all of the operator requirements listed within the 1998 Private Hire Act. Transport for London and Uber have argued to the contrary, as we sit at the moment there are serious question marks over Uber being relicensed at the end of September and it remains to be seen as to what the outcome will be.
Next on the list are the organisations and unions. It has been alleged by those within the industry that the orgs and unions are weak and have not acted decisively enough over the myriad of issues surrounding the trade. This isn't an accusation that is exclusive to one org or union, but traverses all of them. The years of infighting and posturing according to many drivers has taken its toll on the trade.
We then have to look at the media and newswires, accusations have been rife surrounding the media and its hard to ignore the fact that for a number of years there has been a clear bias against the licensed London taxi industry, at least according to those within the industry. These accusations do carry some weight, but are they responsible for a drop in Knowledge students, the simple answer is no.
Now we come to the public, these are the individuals that will dictate as to whether the taxi ndustry will survive and thrive or collapse like a house of cards. The public are fickle, and so they should be, the public are entitled to try any new form of transport they so desire, they pay their money and they take their choice. It is an irrelevance what those within the taxi industry think as to whether a member of the public wishes to use the tried and trusted taxi or the emperors new clothes, that being Uber, the politics and the legality of the situation are a moot point because they just see another company available to them.
Pointing fingers does not solve this problem, so where do the answers lay? The answer to this is within the drivers themselves, every single taxi driver that has passed the Green or the Yellow badge. Ask a dozen drivers on any given day what they think of the job and would they do the Knowledge if they had their time over again and a sizable minority will say no.....and a resounding no at that. This reponse in itself has a highly negative effect on the industry, it is highly discouraging to those wishing to undertake the Knowledge and does nothing more than drive prospective students into the welcoming arms of the PHV industry. The best advert that the industry has is the drivers themselves. Bucking that trend are the new drivers, who are the lifeblood of the taxi industry. Ask any "butter-boy or girl" and they will universally tell you that they love the job, these men and women are the future of the industry. The taxi driver who has held a license for a quarter of a century will give a different view, usually negative because they've seen the industry through what could be termed as "the good times". The Licensed London Taxi Industry is a rolling advert for itself, it has the ability to reverse the trend of negativity.
Transport for London are also part of the answer, advertising both the Taxi industry as well as the benefits of the Knowledge is not outside of TfLs remit as well as giving the Knowledge degree status, they could do this and they should do this. Transport for London should be overseeing the best public transport industry in the world, the taxi industry is part of that. Unless Transport for London exercise good sense and show some fatherly responsibility to the industry that they regulate and do everything that they can to ensure its survival, they will lose that industry and be left with nothing more than a second rate shambolic private hire industry.
Finally we come to the organisations, unions and the media. These entities go hand in hand. The orgs and unions have the ability to educate the media (and the wider public) through simple means, rather than reiterating hackneyed diatribes slaughtering the opposition (whoever they may be), promote, promote, promote. People stop listening when you continually attack the opposition rather than hailing the benefits of the taxi industry. This has a negative effect from the top down.
A strong taxi industry relies on many factors, drivers, regulator, organisations, the media and the uptake of students embarking on the Knowledge. All drivers need to recognise this fact, if new blood doesnt come into the trade then every drivers current position is threatened because there will be no reason to keep the two-tier system.
Ultimately if the Knowledge is finished then every single taxi-driver currently plying their trade is finished.