An overview of the role
The role of a London taxi driver is to transport passengers from one location to another by the shortest and most efficient route possible. The London taxi driver must have an expert knowledge of all London’s streets and locations and be able to recall immediately and from memory the best route to take. Driving a classic black cab, one of the most iconic vehicles in the UK, is a highly specialised role that requires great time and financial investment as well as skill. It is a lifetime commitment, not a stop-gap role.
There are two types of license available to a London London taxi driver:
- All London. Drivers can go anywhere within the Greater London Authority area. All London drivers make up 88% of all London cab drivers and are signified by green badges.
- Suburban. Drivers can go anywhere within one of the nine sectors within the Greater London Authority area. Suburban drivers make up 12% of all London cab drivers and are signified by yellow badges.
What are the responsibilities of a London taxi driver?
The responsibilities of a London taxi driver include:
- Taking passengers safely to their destination as efficiently as possible
- Maintaining a thorough and up to date knowledge of London, or the area of London in which they work if they are a Suburban driver
- Maintaining the standard of London black cab drivers as the most skilled and professional taxi service on the planet
What are the key skills required by a London taxi driver?
Key skills required by a London taxi driver include:
- An unparalleled memory
- Excellent sense of direction
- Persistence and dedication
- The ability to stay calm under pressure
Although this is not a skill officially required in order to become a London taxi driver, many trainees use scooters in order to help them learn the routes they need in order to pass the Knowledge. If you don’t have a motorbike license, you can perform the same practice runs on an electric or push bike.
What qualifications does a London taxi driver require?
In order to become a licensed London taxi driver, you must pass the difficult and gruelling Knowledge test, of which there is a 70% drop out rate and for which there are no study materials. In order to apply for the Knowledge, you must be:
- At least 18 years old (you cannot receive your license until you are 21)
- In possession of a full and clean UK driving license
- Legally allowed to live and work in the UK
- Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checked
- Medically fit enough to meet the DVLA Group 2 Medical Standards
Knowledge candidates undergo a series of oral examinations, during which they are required to ‘call’ routes from one location to another. Knowledge boys and girls (trainees) are tested at 56 day intervals, then 28, then 21, and finally 14 before sitting their final test and acquiring their ‘req’.
It is impossible to fail the Knowledge; if a candidate does not pass a stage, they are sent back to the previous one and must take that again before working their way up. Only when they have their req can they take a driving test on the black cab itself.
Do I need relevant work experience to become a London taxi driver?
No official experience is required in order to become a taxi driver, but in practice countless hours scouting London streets in order to find the best routes is necessary. Passing the Knowledge generally takes between two and four years of learning and study.
Is the role of a London taxi driver right for me?
There are both pros and cons involved in the role of a London taxi driver.
Pros of being a London taxi driver include:
- Once qualified, you can earn a salary that befits your extensive training – over £60,000 if you are a regular dedicated driver
- You can choose the hours that you work and set your own schedule – many London taxi drivers work every day for two weeks then take several days off in a row
- A sociable, person-focused job that will allow you to meet people from all backgrounds and walks of life, gaining a fascinating insight into countless lives
- A unique and privileged insight into the whole of London
Cons of being a London taxi driver include:
- Passing the Knowledge is a monumental feat that involves memorising more than 25,000 streets – it can take as long as earning a degree and represents thousands of hours of effort and study
- The training can be very expensive with some trainees paying over £200,000 while learning
- The black cab itself is very expensive to buy – around £45,000, with newer hybrid models as much as £65,000
- Long hours – 8 hour shifts are standard and drivers may be on the road for as many as 12 hours a day
- The role of a London taxi driver involves all the negative aspects of a customer-facing role – you will have to deal with difficult and sometimes drunk customers
- Your schedule is dictated by customer supply so you may have to work unsociable hours, often late at night
- People ‘bilking’ (running off without paying) is fairly common and you must be prepared for it
- Taxi driving can sometimes be dangerous because you are alone in the cab with a stranger who may turn verbally or physically abusive – in more dangerous areas of London the cab may also be rushed for money
- The income of London black cab drivers is being threatened by minicabs and Uber drivers, who are far less skilled but charge less