THE LITTLE BLACK CABS 4-20-2015
The little black cabs (or Americans would call them taxis) are quintessential to London in the same way the double decker buses, red postal boxes and red telephone boxes are.
If you have never taken a ride in one, it should be on your bucket list. After being crammed into the back of the typical American car, you will wonder at the leg room. Your luggage fits in there with you (not the trunk or boot, as the British would call it) and you can stretch your legs all the way across the floor and still not reach the front seat.
But here is the most amazing thing about them. London cabbies go through a grueling training system called The Knowledge. This can take up to 4 ½ years to complete. Yes, it is like getting a college degree and they do this by going around on a bike. It requires learning over 25,000 streets, points of interest, hospitals, hotels, rail stations, historic sites, and the list goes on and on. About 70% of those who try do not complete the course. An interesting video can be found about The Knowledge on YouTube here.
When you step into a black cab you can rest assured that not only will your driver instantly recognize your destination, but that he (or she) will know the quickest route; factoring in time of day and other considerations. If you like, they’ll even be able to point out landmarks like theatres, embassies and public buildings along the way.
So, all that said, these wonderfully trained cabbies are under attack by a new business called Uber. Uber's model is run using computers/GPS and can be booked via your phone. They are selling this as an efficient model to their customers. There might be an argument for this but here is what you will miss if you choose this option. Uber drivers do not know the city at all and they do not know alternative routes when there are traffic problems, construction or an accident blocking the road. I suspect that GPS will eventually overcome these issues and provide alternative routes, but you still will not ride in a Black Cab and will not be chatted up by friendly driver who knows just about everything you can imagine about London. There is something else to consider. Cabbies must go through rigorous safety and background checks, and Uber drivers do not.