I love my job. Driving around in a London icon while getting to meet incredible people from all over the world? You can’t beat it. But in these modern times earning a living as a black taxi driver can be a little disheartening thanks to the numerous stereotypes and misconceptions levelled at us. Here are seven common digs in need of debunking.
'Isn't there a quicker route?'
I can’t help traffic, I can’t prevent road closures, nor am I the brains behind this city’s labyrinth one-way systems. As soon as I'm asked a destination, a number of routes will click in my mind but, like a game of ‘Guess Who?’, many of those options will need tapping down. Euston Road? Can’t risk the underpass. Tavistock Place? Now no entry. Russell Square? All backed up. If there are shortcuts available believe me, I’ll take ‘em – but then you’ll only go and accuse me of trying to ramp up the meter, won’t you, because...
'Black cabbies are so greedy!'
I can only imagine this stems from barmy delusions about our perceived earnings. Black cab drivers are self-employed. We ply the streets because, like most working folk, we’ve bills to pay and roofs to keep over our heads, not because we’re looking for suckers to diddle or have swimming pools to heat.
'How much do you really earn?'
If I had a quid for every time I’d been asked this I could hang up my keys and retire. Honest answer though? Not a lot. Our fares cover some pretty hefty expenses. A new taxi costs almost £43,000, our insurance could buy you a fortnight in the Bahamas and the engine chugs fuel quicker than a crowd of students at a free bar. On a slow day these overheads subject your takings to a real clobbering. Anyway, I thought discussing money was taboo?
'Aren't you a cartel?'
London’s black taxis have been competing with minicabs – of which there are currently over 105,000 licensed – since the early 1960s, so it’s a little unfair to suggest we’re shy of competition. Sure, we can nip down bus lanes but that’s because we’re so tightly regulated. As well as being 100 percent wheelchair accessible and obliged to use a specialist vehicle, (which requires a stringent overhaul and two MOTs per year) our rates are set by TfL and surge pricing's a no-no.
'Why bother with the Knowledge when there's sat nav?'
To study the Knowledge is to immerse yourself in this great metropolis until you're familiar with every inch of it; every conceivable building, quirk, twist and turn. Examinations are ongoing until you’re deemed good enough; I had to sit 27. And you know what? It works; I couldn't do my job without it. Thanks to our training we can deal with anything the public throws at us – and all without having to wobble along while prodding away at a sat nav (which could conk out anyway).
'You're just a bunch of Luddites!'
So says ex-mayor Boris Johnson. Sure, we've been around a while but that doesn't mean we don't move with the times. Electric vehicles? We first did 'em in 1897. Apps? Try 'Hailo' and 'Gett', both of which launched in 2011. As for credit cards, all black taxis will be required to accept plastic by October this year – and at no extra cost to the passenger. Ha.
'You whinge too much!'
I’ll give you that. But if I were to sit behind you at your workplace I’m sure I’d hear the odd gripe too.