Plan Insurance Blog

Response from Trade to London Knowledge Reforms

We recently covered the controversial topic of whether the London Knowledge should be simplified. Proposals have been put forward to reduce the complexity of the test. The theory is that this will attract a higher number of new applications and slow the worrying reduction in overall driver numbers. The blog post certainly generated a passionate response. Below we outline some key points that we received rebutting the “dumbing down” plans.

Our blog was aimed mainly to highlight the important conversation that the LTDA and Freenow appear to be leading in the industry. As a supplier to the trade it can be difficult to obtain the level of insight provided by this particular conversation with a cabbie facing the everyday realities of the trade. The following opinions are likely to resonate with many of his fellow drivers. The responder was happy for us to include his comments anonymously. Hopefully we can help stimulate some useful debate and contribute to raising awareness of the current sentiment within the trade.

Our responder wished to highlight the wider challenges still facing the trade despite an apparent upturn in consumer demand post pandemic. He pointed out that there are several additional factors causing drivers to leave the trade. Many of which may be putting off potential knowledge applicants in addition to the challenge of studying.

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  • The purchase price of an LEVC was highlighted ”a massive factor”. Currently it is the only taxi authorised in London is. The respondents exact words were, “Basically a plug in hybrid with a pathetically low range on full charge at a cost of £75k+.” It was pointed out that entrants into the trade will be able to obtain finance to avoid purchasing the vehicle outright. However the gentleman in quesstion fears that many applicants, particularly younger ones with family commitments, may struggle to afford repayments on such a valuable asset.
  • He also believes that private hire and taxi apps have started “dictating how the trade should be run? “This is the tail wagging the dog.” As a result he has, “Dropped all apps during the pandemic and only take work off the street, old school.” If he does work for an app it would be one exclusively to the taxi trade. Not one that “wants to be all things to everyone.” In fact he’d support a “boycott of all apps other than those purely for black cabs.” To many in the trade this may appear an extreme and self-harming stance. However it certainly reveals the depth of resentment many drivers still feel towards cross over apps.
  • It was agreed that the “parrot fashion learning” that our article referenced is perhaps not in keeping with more modern educational methods that applicants are likely accustomed to? Yet, he makes a good point that getting a “picture of London in your head” is for nothing if “that picture is constantly being changed by the powers that be”. With constant diversions due to “uncoordinated road works and streets being dug up over and over again” and permanent changes to the road network the benefit of The Knowledge is being chipped away. It could be argued that thanks to The Knowledge a cab driver is more capable to dynamically re-route and take into account real world scenarios than a Sat Nav. Therefore offering more value to the paying customer. Yet, his statement rings true and must be a cause of frustration.
  • On a similar note he raises what is likely to be a major bone of contention for many drivers, congestion. As well as road works, London’s slow moving traffic has not been helped by, “ a reduction in road space and available routes due to pavement widening, cycle lanes, road closures, low traffic neighbourhoods.” These factors of course impact a driver’s work environment and ultimately their job satisfaction.
  • Furthermore the threat of fines and the accompanying stress due to the risk of accidentally contravening rules such as, “20mph even on dual carriageways, traffic light re-phasing, new No left or right turns” and avoiding “so much street furniture” while trying to drive and read signs “about roads that have timed restrictions with cameras to catch you out in the event of a lapse in concentration.”
  • Reckless cyclists/e-scooterists are another cause for concern for this taxi driver. He feels that many have little road awareness “expecting the motorist to miss them” and in contrast to the points outlined above, they flout the law with little concern regarding enforcement.

“Where is the fun in driving in London?“

The Licensed London Taxi Driver making these points has been qualified for over 2 decades and states he has “never found the experience of driving less enjoyable as it is now.”

Attracting drivers to the industry is not just a London based issue, it remains a challenge across the country. The legislative environment is a contributory factor for the sector. Taxi drivers in multiple areas are threatening to quit over the added costs caused by low emission zones. Glasgow implemented a LEZ on June 1st much to the annoyance of many local businesses. Both Manchester and Leeds have delayed imposing a similar initiative.

The driver who has contributed to this blog is worried that he’ll paint the outlook for the trade in too pessimistic a light. Amusingly he says he’s already referred to as, “Victor Meldrew on an all too regular basis” by members of his own family. Yet he raises a number of very valid concerns. He recounts an anecdote of a trip several months ago to Taxiworld in White City to have a minor issue with his meter checked. “A taxi driver was having his meter removed from his de-licensed taxi, due to the 12 year age limit, and he seemed a broken man to me. He’d possibly put his head in the sand and not prepared for the future but for a man in his early to mid-sixties he came across as someone who didn’t know what to do and didn’t really want to talk about his predicament. It’s an image and conversation I can’t get out of my head probably because it’s a scenario that could be fast approaching for me.”

Our client is just over 4 years away from state retirement age himself. Though his taxi’s licence runs out this October under the maximum 12 year age rule. So he has a significant decision to make whether to spend his remaining working years as a taxi driver. Sadly at the moment he feels that he’d, “Love to be able to knock it on the head and never drive for work in our terribly run capital city. I may not be the only old fart thinking along these lines.”

When you read the above points, do you think for potential new starters, even if a simplified version of The Knowledge is introduced, will the benefits and prestige of being a qualified cabbie present a sufficient upside, compared to the lower costs and the ease of just starting as an Uber driver?

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