Is Uber Systematically Killing the London Cabbie of Tomorrow?
It’s complicated. And, yes.
Dare to find taxi drivers who know their city more intimately than those driving London’s black cabbies. You won’t. That’s because these drivers spend up to four years—on mopeds no less—memorizing 25,000 roads across a six-mile radius. Tell them an address, and they’ll flat-out get you there on time—no GPS or smartphone app needed.
That’s the goal of the Knowledge, London’s official taxi test required for all of the city’s 25,000 licensed drivers. But the city’s largest training school is now closing after 26 years, in part because of Uber.
“Demand has gone down since Uber arrived," said Malcolm Linskey, founder of Knowledge Point, to the Financial Times. "Usually we have 350 students enrolling a year, last year it was 200."
But London’s rising rents are also part of the problem. According to the Guardian, the school’s building in Islington, formerly a working-class neighborhood, is now being leveled to construct “luxury flats.”
“We need a central London location,” training manager Derek O’Reilly told the paper. “If we relocate to the suburbs we will alienate a lot of people who come to us.”
The school will still sell maps and hold meetings in community centers, plus there are 10 other Knowledge schools running. Unlicensed, non-regulated Uber drivers have enraged London’s taxi association much as it has in other major cities where, in effect, the competition from a Silicon Valley upstart is viewed as unfair.
Sure, you could save a few pounds with Uber, but which would you trust more: an iPhone app or real humans who learn thousands of POIs, face a dozen interviews and can suggest the nearest pub with the best Scotch egg?
We’ve lived in London, and we vote human.