Why "The Knowledge" for Uber Drivers Could End the Black-Cab Debate

By James O Malley on at

Uber drivers in London could soon be forced to take an exam testing their knowledge of the capital's streets, according to Part-Time Mayor Boris Johnson.

According to the Huffington Post, the Mayor was speaking at the LBC "State of London" debate when he revealed the plans, which are apparently in consultation with Transport for London (TfL) and not at all just made up on the spot to sound like he is doing something to meet cabbie complaints.

Uber has caused huge controversy in the capital since its launch in 2012, with traditional black-cab drivers upset by the company destroying their business model by being cheaper and arguably more reliable.

The difference between the two services is that black-cab drivers are allowed to pick people up off the street; an advantage that has been negated with the birth of apps that enable pre-booking based on proximity. Cabbies have also historically differentiated themselves from minicabs and Uber by having taken "The Knowledge", a test where they are required to be able to describe routes through London without looking at a map. Unfortunately for cabbies, GPS is now commonplace.

In recent months, traditional cabbies have brought parts of the capital to gridlock in protest, demanding that something be done about it.

Boris apparently said "it is not fair that a black-taxi driver has to spend four years getting the Knowledge and somebody else can just cruise in and take up the trade without really knowing how London works and how it all fits together. TFL are currently consulting on a proper geographical test so you can’t drive a mini cab in London unless you know one end of the city from the other."

Though the Mayor, who we thought was a member of a pro-free market party, points out that the extra market-breaking hoops to jump through will still leave Uber supposedly inferior:

"We will do it in the same way we do for black cabs. It wont be like the Knowledge because I think it is important that the black cabs retain their distinctiveness."

Apropos of nothing, the moonlighting Mayor may be interested to know that a black cab from City Hall to 10 Downing Street is estimated to be £14.66, whereas an Uber would only cost £8.06.

It'll be interesting to see if London does intend to crackdown on Uber; other proposed measures have included limiting the number of minicab licences, which have exploded since Uber and other ride-sharing services took off. Requiring The Knowledge could be just the sort of tokenistic compromise that is needed to keep all parties happy, though; Uber has apparently already said that it supports the move. [Huffington Post]