I've been send this article which appeared in the Dutch Media, giving support to the London Taxi trade and its drivers’.
Every month there are about a 1000 more private hire vehicles coming onto the streets London: mini cabs + Uber.
Resulting in even more queues and congestions in an already clogged-up ancient City with it narrow streets. Therefore, is it possible for the Black Cab to survive under these conditions with its highly regulated driver, vehicle and overheads?
Written by Titia Ketelaar, 29 December 2015.
Translation Marian Di Lieto.
This is what a Cabbie, the iconic driver of the famous London Black Cab knows by heart;
How to go from the centre: the Statue of Charles the I Island at Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, to about 25000 streets within a 6 Mile radius.
Where, in the middle of the night, you can find a Chemist open. Or, how to find the quickest way through a web of streets from Mayfair to the Ritz Hotel at Green Park and the Lost and Found Property Office by Baker Street.
Where to drop off at the forever disrupted Liverpool Street Station.
Which pub is the nearest to whatever office, and that Kings Road and Kings Place are two completely different destinations!
It is simpler to let an Elephant fly than to learn the Knowledge, according to a Cabbie in the making. He still has to do another 5 month, before he hopes to gain his Licence.
Every day he goes out on his scooter to learn a new area and street plan, like all the Cabbies before him since the end nineteen century.
The London Black Cab driver unlike the private hire driver does not gain their licence until they have satisfied the Knowledge Examiner that they are of the high standard that the licencing authority requires of them. This allows them to accept immediate hiring’s from a rank or street hail.
All other forms of cars in London using route planners or not must be booked beforehand via a licensed operating centre, its App or telephone system. This gives the private hire driver ample time to work out a route prior to undertaking the journey.
We’re talking about private hire licensed vehicles and unlicensed mini cabs and Uber Cars.
But there is one big problem according to London Cabbies and Cabbies all over the World.
The App to book Uber cars is really waving down or hailing on the side of the road, because they’re arriving so quickly.
Because of this we’re losing our privilege says Steve Mepham from the United Cabbie Group. The choice between studying the knowledge for (3-4 years) or making money straight away is the easy choice for most.
This means that a part of London’s soul is slipping away!
The amount of Cabbies in training is down by 60%. In the meantime the amount of different private hire vehicles is rising by a 1000 per month!!!
There are now (18th January 2016) in London 96.890 private hire drivers and 75,394 private hire vehicles , 18.000 of which are Uber Cars and only 25.077 Black Cab drivers with 22,127 Black Cab taxis.
Application volumes for licences - 539 applications are awaiting initial assessment. Of those applications, 457 are new (9 taxi and 448 private hire) and 82 are renewal applications (26 taxi and 56 private hire). Renewal applications are prioritised over new applications.
That is why the Laws need to be changed to protect the London Cabbies.
The rules need to be changed and it is for the government to make that decision for change.
The rising amount of private hire vehicles as you can see from the above figures is causing queues and blocking up the roads in a City which is already congested.
The rules were laid down before the last King died (1953) says Steve Mepham. In fact the first act was London Hackney Carriage Act 1831.
The Big question is…will the Government and TFL protect the special place and position of the London Black Cabs.
“We understand the pressure Black Cabs feel because of us, but they need to lower the rules” according to a statement from Uber.
It’s not that the Cabbies are luddites and against digitalising, which was said by Mayor Boris Johnson at City Hall last September.
Steve Mepham’s reaction: We created Radio Circuits and recently HAILO, an App to order Black Cabs, that was 2 years before Uber came to London.
THE HUMAN FORM OF GPS
In his Cab Steve Mepham has an I-phone so he is able to pick-up Hailo customers, an I-pad for the Get-Taxi passengers and a Blue tooth connection to offer a Credit Card service.
Half of my passengers are coming via my App said Steve. They like to be picked-up from home and they know that the map of London is in my head and the shortest and most direct route will be taken which is far superior to a GPS.
Cabbies are not against other door to door transport services; Steve Mepham reckons that 10 years ago there were 25.000 Black Cabs and 7.5 Million Londoners. Now there are 8.6 Million Londoners, so if you stop other taxi drivers from working here, we would not be able to cope with the demand.
And yes…Black Cabs are more expansive than a mini cab—which again is more expensive than Uber.
But there is a market for both. When Primart opened the doors opposite Selfridges, Selfridges didn’t go down in quality. They both have they’re purpose.
Steve Mepham is very proud of the service that he and his colleague Cabbies are giving to the Public.
“When I drop you off, I will always look and make sure you get safely through the building door.”
A lot of trainee Cabbies are Uber or private hire drivers or working as Couriers to learn the City/Town. Jamie Holmes was a Lorry driver and Gary Freeman use to deliver Pizza’s.
They are attending The Knowledge Point one of the many schools where Cabbie’s studying the enormous Map and testing each other’s Knowledge.
The school was on the verge of closing down (being demolished) but they found another smaller venue enabling them to carry on.
BAROMETER OF UNEMPLOYMENT.
In a room upstairs at the Knowledge School is teacher Derek O’Reilly examining trainees. 30 questions need to be answered by the nine Men and one Woman (2% of Cabbies are Woman). In the early days this room would be packed out. We use to be the Barometer of unemployment in this City. When Ford motor car plant cut down we had Mechanics coming through the door, when the City slimmed down we had Bank staff coming in and now we see a lot more Policeman and Firefighters signing on.
The Knowledge is an expensive study, about £30.000 on average. Having to buy a scooter and pay the insurance, petrol etc. and often without a fulltime employment.
During the study they also have to learn things like:
The staff at Harrods Department Store needs to be dropped off one street further then their customers as there is a passageway under the street from their canteen to the Store. They also know that the West part of London is richer than the East, so there are more trips being made on the Westside of town.
The question if the Knowledge is, in this time of GPS irrelevant, there is a protest!
The Conservative Party called the Knowledge Archaic. But Jimmy Jeffrey says: we know all the road works, queues etc. which the GPS doesn’t!
James Holmes says that he does not have to feed other addresses into the GPS machine when the meter is running, but maybe it won’t take long before there is a app for that as well.
THE OLDEST TAXI IN THE WORLD.
The London Hackney Carriages (the official name of Black Cabs) are the oldest taxi service in the world! In 1636 Charles I gave 50 carriages from Hackney consent to pick-up people off the street. The Knowledge started in1851 because Police Commissioner Richard Mayne was upset by the amount of Hackney Carriage drivers who didn’t know they’re way around the City. For them to gain London Hackney Carriage drivers licence from then on they had to study the roads.
A Black Cab driver knows all the roads within a radius of 6 miles from Charing Cross. Through Roads are called Oranges and Lemons according to the colour on the map, derived from the Children’s nursery rhyme: ”Oranges and Lemmon’s says the Bells of St. Clements”
The Hippocampus, a part of the brain where orientation ability is situated is in cabbies significantly larger than in other humans. This was the result of tests that were carried out at the University College London in 2006.
At the start of the Knowledge the Hippocampus was the same size as in other human beings but after 3-4 years of study it was found to have become enlarged!