The E4 Knowledge School trains adults to become London black cab drivers. Judith Burnett met business owner and trainer Tom Quigley in Highams Park for a coffee to chat about how to become a fully licensed cabbie.
London black cabs are famous the world over, but the right to drive one must be earned. Tom explained that would be cabbies must first register with Transport for London (TfL) to receive their information pack and pass a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
After that, there is just the small matter of learning to drive the cab to anywhere in London on demand – which means taking and passing the Knowledge of London test. Which is where E4 Knowledge School comes in.
What do you do?
We train people to pass the Knowledge test.
This means learning 321 routes in both directions i.e., one forwards and one reverse (a total of 642 routes) plus successfully setting down on the left-hand side of the road next to 24,000 points of interest. Yes, 24,000 points of interest – some of which are always changing – plus setting down at just the right spot for disabled access…road layout and traffic changes included.
The Knowledge of London is taken in seven stages, following an initial talk explaining all the stages and hearing from successful candidates who know all the ins and outs.
The test includes a written exam and ‘appearances’ with an examiner who asks questions about the shortest route between two points. After completing the tests, you are invited to apply for your cabbie’s licence and receive your badge!
What is it like being a cabbie?
Once qualified, cabbies typically rent and then buy their cab. They are then free to ply their trade across the 12 miles of London. ‘It’s the only job where you buy your own office and drive it around London’, said Tom.
Cabbies don’t need to use email or a mobile. As their own boss, they don’t have to phone in sick or ask for holidays and can work whenever they like. ‘It’s very flexible and there is good money to be made,’ said Tom.
Fares can be available for many different reasons. In the summer people might take a cab because it’s hot, especially on the tube. In the winter people might take a cab because the weather is bad. At night people might take a cab to get home smoothly after a night out. People take a cab to attend events such as the Chelsea Flower Show, go Christmas shopping or to get across London on awkward routes.
‘There is a big camaraderie in London,’ said Tom. ‘There’s nothing like it. And that starts on courses such as ours, where you meet other people working at the Knowledge test.’
Who takes the Knowledge?
Many people take a study route with a class, although some people choose to go it alone. ‘That can be hard,’ said Tom, ‘There is a 60% drop-out route of people who do self-study, whereas the E4 Knowledge School’s drop out rate is just 2%.’
‘You can enrol from the age of 18, and there is no barrier to starting the Knowledge later in life. Our best student was a 51-year-old mother of two who used to work full time in a laundry. She passed the Knowledge in just 2 years 3 months and now drives her own cab as a self-employed person.’
There is a camaraderie among learners as well, with classes getting to know each other over 2-3 years and ex-students how driving their own cabs, who drop-in for a cup of tea and to lend a hand.
What tips do you have for someone thinking about becoming a London cabbie?
‘Never take your cab to a wedding or a funeral!’ said Tom, ‘You will be asked to give people lifts here, there and everywhere!’
What do you do in your spare time?
Tom was a keen Gaelic Footballer, playing for the London Minors at Wembley in 1971. Later he coached at Leyton Orient as a community coach. Today he is Secretary of the Veteran’s Football Alliance.
If anyone is interested in getting something going with Gaelic Football in Waltham Forest, the only London borough without such activity, contact Tom Quigley on 0798 444 4590 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The next Highams Park Business Group meeting is on Tuesday 11th May, click though to https://ticketlab.co.uk/event/id/7060/ for booking details.
Words by: JudithBurnettConsulting@gmail.com
Photography supplied by: E4 Knowledge School