If you want to drive a black cab in London, you have to pass the ultimate memory test – the Knowledge of London.

Driving around the nation’s capital, no two days are the same. You could be up in North London one minute and south of the river the next.

As a result, the Knowledge requires cabbies to hone an advanced understanding of London’s intricate sprawl of road networks – around 25,000 streets – enabling them to transport passengers via the shortest routes possible.  

Passing the infamous test is no easy feat: it tends to take between two and four years, involving both oral and written exams. It’s no surprise that London’s taxi service is world-renowned for excellence – the stringent demands of the Knowledge mean only the best candidates cut the mustard.

Once you pass, you’ll be a fully-fledged London cabbie. Whether you buy or lease your vehicle, after all that hard graft you want taxi insurance you can count on.

Taxi Insurer understands the demands of daily life as a cabbie. We can arrange reliable cover at a competitive price – one less headache for you to worry about.

We know a thing or two about the Knowledge, as well, so take a look at our ultimate guide below if you’re thinking of taking the test.

Many daffodils on a grass area with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in the background at sunset

What does the Knowledge involve?

If you’re planning on becoming a public hire taxi driver in London, you’ll be aiming to gain one of two licences:

All London: green badge licence, allowing drivers to ply for hire throughout the Greater London Authority zone.

Suburban: yellow badge licence, allowing drivers to ply for hire in one specific sector (out of nine) within the Greater London Authority zone’s suburbs.

First, you’ll need to:

  • Send Transport for London (TfL) an application
  • Undergo approved medical and character checks
  • Be sent and receive your Knowledge of London starter pack

The starter pack will include a copy of the Blue Book – the ‘Guide to Learning the Knowledge of London’.  A booklet detailing how to memorise the Knowledge and how candidates are assessed is also included.

The Knowledge includes a series of one-to-one oral exams, a written exam and a suburban exam.

We’ll take a closer look at the testing process later on.

London’s a big city, so the Knowledge involves a lot, and we mean a lot, of memorisation.

Black cab drivers are expected to build an encyclopaedic knowledge of their chosen work zone.

Unlike private hire minicab drivers, London taxi drivers must be able to navigate the city by memory alone, taking passengers to any place, road or street they request without the aid of a sat nav.

An All London driver will need to learn 320 routes or ‘runs’ found in a six-mile radius of Charing Cross – outlined in the Blue Book – within a two-year timeframe. The area is roughly 113 square miles. They’ll also need to learn 22 suburban routes.

There are as many as 20,000 public hotspots and landmarks to learn – from parks to churches and museums to schools – found in a quarter mile radius of every route’s start and finishing point.

A Suburban driver will have one year to learn all the runs in their specific sector, and will also need to demonstrate a good knowledge of central London.

In recent years, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the rise of Uber.

Many cabbies believe Uber/minicab drivers have an unfair advantage, as they’re not required to pass the Knowledge and largely depend on sat navs to get their customers to their destinations.

Minicab drivers take a less substantial map-reading test, but in many ways, this gives black cab drivers an edge, as, thanks to the Knowledge, they can offer an unbeatable understanding of their sector’s ins and outs.

A black cab driving along a residential road in London

What do you need to learn the Knowledge?

TfL cites the following as vital resources for learning the Knowledge:

  • The driver’s edition of the All London or Suburban Blue Book.
  • Good-quality maps, of a scale that dedicates a minimum of 3 inches to a mile.
  • A car or reliable bicycle/moped/scooter, plus protective clothing
  • If you choose to ride a moped/scooter, you’ll need either a moped/scooter licence or a Compulsory Basic Training Certificate, which is valid for a two-year period.
  • A ‘call-over’ partner – someone willing to question you as an examiner would. Consider pairing up with another Knowledge student, as you can test one another and deepen your knowledge simultaneously. Knowledge schools are an ideal place to meet study partners.

 

Prepping and learning your routes

It’s useful to note: the Blue Book isn’t the answer to all your prayers. Why not? Under your own steam, you’ll need to work out the shortest versions of up to an eye-watering 320 runs.

You can go back to basics, if you wish, using a ruler or a piece of string to calculate the best routes, although tech lovers may opt for a computer-based measuring tool.

Whichever tool you select, follow the shortest line it produces between points A and B on your route, noting down valid streets, roads and landmarks as you go. These will help you memorise the shortest route.

If you’re aiming for an All London licence, you’ll have to do this for every route featured in the Blue Book.

There’s good news for Suburban candidates, however: you’ll only have to follow this process for routes in your chosen sector.

Once you’ve mapped it out, travel along the route in real-time, noting stop-off points passengers might request.

At both the start and end points, explore the quarter mile (All London) or half mile (Suburban) radius, noting which roads and landmarks are linked to the run.

In addition, follow the run in both directions, noting one-way streets and other diversions. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be on your way to building a ‘dumbbell of Knowledge’.

A person reading a map of London with their arm over it

Knowledge schools

If you don’t enjoy self-directed study, a Knowledge school might be a good fit for you.

The privately-run schools are not connected to TfL, and some only facilitate All London candidates, so if you’re a Suburban candidate, make sure you enquire before signing up.

Knowledge schools run classes and sell routes, maps and other learning resources. They can also aid students in finding call-over partners.

 

The Knowledge of London testing process

Once you’re past the first hurdle, you’ll attend an introductory talk alongside other approved candidates.

A Knowledge of London examiner will also be in attendance, offering advice regarding the Knowledge’s various stages, plus handy study tips.

The Knowledge is split into seven stages:

Stage one - self assessment

This stage is optional, but well worth your time! Six months after embarking on the Knowledge, you can take the self-assessment test, being quizzed on the first 80 runs listed within the Blue Book.

It’s a great way of gaging how well you’re learning, and you needn’t worry about your score, either: it won’t be recorded.

Stage two – written exam

Everyone learns at a different pace, and you’ll likely be studying the Knowledge alongside your day job.

Luckily, you have a two-year window to take the written exam, starting from when you receive your starter pack.

Once you feel your standard is where it should be, you’ll sit the written exam, which consists of a multiple-choice test.

You’ll be required to answer five questions on the runs listed in the Blue Books, as well as 25 questions on major landmarks. To pass, candidates must score a minimum of 60%.

Stages three to five – appearances

After your written exam, you’ll take a series of oral exams one-on-one with an examiner.

Each exam or ‘appearance’ takes roughly 20 minutes and tends to involve four questions on the shortest routes between two select points in London. You’ll be graded between A-D.

You may lose marks for the following:

  • Opting for a longer route when shorter ones are available
  • Selecting a route involving: illegal U-turns/turns; driving down one-way streets in the wrong direction; disobeying ‘no entry’ notices.
  • Providing erroneous street names
  • Choosing physically inaccessible pull-over points.
  • Failure to answer the question quickly. During daily life as a licensed cabbie, you’ll be available for immediate hire. As a result, your route recall must be second to none – passengers will expect quick service.

Stage six – suburban exam

This exam gives you the chance to further prove your thorough knowledge of London, testing you on 25 routes within London’s suburbs.

Stage seven – applying for your licence

You made it! Once you reach stage seven, you will have passed every test. You can now make the final application for your taxi licence.

You’ll attend a pre-licensing talk alongside other newly-qualified drivers, receiving advice from an examiner on performing your cabbie duties responsibly. You’ll also receive your licence and badge at the presentation.

It’s essential to secure taxi insurance before you officially hit the road. Make sure you’re protected behind the wheel and your vehicle is covered in the unfortunate event of accidental damage or theft.

You’ll be dealing with various members of the public every day, so look for taxi insurance that includes public liability – you’d be surprised how quickly legal bills can stack up.

Accidents happen and customers can and do get injured.

If you’d like to know more about the Knowledge test, you can access extra information here.

A taxi driver looking happy driving his black cab

When you’ll need to contact the Knowledge department

Once you start studying the Knowledge, if any significant changes are made to your personal circumstances, you’ll need to get in touch with the department.

For example, you’d be obliged to let the department know of the following status changes:

  • Amendments to Driving Standards Agency Certificate
  • Cautions, charges and convictions
  • Alterations to name or address
  • Medical issues

Likewise, if you have any learning difficulties or special needs, it’s important to let the department know so adjustments can be made to fit you.

If you have any complaints, queries or would like to make an appeal, you can contact the department.

These will be handled in confidence and will not have a negative impact on your mark/grading.

 

Passing the Knowledge: top tips

  • Don’t restrict yourself to indoor learning tools such as digital apps, books and videos. Practical knowledge is king when it comes to cab driving, so get outside and get driving along your runs.
  • Enlist a friend or family member to roleplay as ‘passenger’. Ask them to pick surprise destinations, then you can describe the route you’d take to get from A to B. Note down your answers and check whether you picked the shortest route afterwards.
  • Practice regularly with your call-over partner, if you have one, whenever the two of you can schedule revision sessions together.
  • Schedule your study hours in advance, drawing up a timetable. It’s much easier to hit your weekly revision target if you follow a designated structure.
  • When you’re lacking motivation, visualise how great it would be to pass the Knowledge: as a cabbie, you can pick when and where you work, and decide how much you earn. Not a bad life!
  • Try zipping around the city on a scooter/moped. TfL states that most applicants learning the Knowledge use scooters as a means of learning London’s runs before their exams. Scooters/mopeds allow for fast manoeuvring and allow drivers to use bus lanes.
  • Don’t run before you can walk. Make sure you’re truly ready to take the exams before booking a slot.

A high up view of the city of London at dusk

Enjoying life as a cabbie

Once you’ve got all your ducks in a row, it’s time to enjoy the daily adventure of life as a London cabbie.

Anything can happen on the road, so it’s essential to protect your future and invest in reliable taxi insurance. There are lots of road risks in bustling, lively cities such as London, and, sadly, theft is a daily threat.

The Taxi Insurer will tailor your cover to fit your business needs, budget and vehicle, offering benefits such as a monthly payment facility and a 24hr claims management service.

We provide taxi insurance for single vehicles, fleets, public and private hire cabs, minibuses and more – there are plenty of policies available for those in the taxi trade and our specialist team are more than happy to help.  

Get a quote today.

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