February 7, 2018

Before They Can Drive a Taxi, London’s Cabbies Have To Commit the City To Memory in a Rigorous Test Called the Knowledge (

In their fight against Uber, London’s taxi drivers claim a distinct advantage: They must forgo GPS and navigate the huge city entirely from memory. CNET: Put in place in 1865, the Knowledge exam requires cabbies to navigate between any two points in central London without following a map or GPS. It can take four years to learn the information and pass a series of stringent oral tests. It’s a grueling process unmatched by any training taxi drivers have to face anywhere else, and it’s the most arduous thing Pearson’s [Editor’s note: a driver; used as anecdote in the story] ever done. “My uncle was a cab driver and he encouraged me to give it a go,” he said. “But I still didn’t realize how hard it would be.”

Despite the difficulty of mastering it, cabbies proudly defend the Knowledge as a critical part of their job, something technology can’t replace. They say it sets them apart from ride-hailing services like Uber, whose drivers don’t have to learn the Knowledge, and they believe it allows them to deliver a superior level of service. But ever since mapping apps arrived on phones and GPS-wielding Uber drivers exploded into London in 2012, the Knowledge has faced a volatile future. Should cabbies have to spend years of their life memorizing every inch of London when they can simply punch in a destination on a screen and be guided? Absolutely, say the drivers I spoke with.

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