The Knowledge of London

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There are no short cuts to becoming a black-taxi driver, however. Students, known as “Knowledge boys” (or girls), spend years driving through London learning thousands of streets and the quickest “runs” or routes from one point to another. Most do this by scooter, covering thousands of miles in the process.

They’re also expected to memorise landmarks and points of interest, including theatres, police stations, churches, museums and parks. John Mason is director of London Taxi and Private Hire, part of Transport for London (TfL), and oversees all Knowledge examiners. He says: “The Knowledge has a reputation as the hardest taxi driver test in the world. It is an incredibly difficult test that’s steeped in tradition and history. It’s also a big investment. “It’s about making sure every taxi driver is up to the highest possible standard. Customers have very high expectations.”

And learning the runs is just stage one of acquiring The Knowledge. When students feel ready, they sit a basic written exam to get to the next part, a series of one-to-one interviews. These are called “appearances”, and are oral tests with an examiner. During the appearance, applicants are told the start and finishing points of journeys and have to describe the shortest route between them. “This is when the really hard part starts,” says Mason, 42. “The examiner will ask completely random runs.”

Failure means you must have another appearance. The number of appearances depends on the individual. It can be done in as few as three or four, but usually takes many more. Mason has given badges to drivers who have passed in two years – and others who have taken 11 years.

According to TfL, 700 to 1,000 drivers pass The Knowledge each year, with about 6,000 currently registered as students.

Green or Yellow

Green or yellow badge? Passing The Knowledge depends on what type of taxi driver you want to be. There are two types:

  • GREEN - All-London drivers, also known as the Green Badge drivers, must learn 320 routes, 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks or places of interest within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. It usually takes two to four years to pass and, once qualified, cabbies can work anywhere in the Greater London area.
  • YELLOW - Suburban drivers, or Yellow Badge drivers, can choose from London’s nine suburban sectors and must learn 30 to 51 runs in detail plus the streets, landmarks and places of interest.

It’s usually quicker to pass than for All-London drivers – about two years – but cabbies can only work in the sector they’re licensed for.