When you spend you life doing design research two things become common: firstly you get used to chatting to people and finding interesting stuff out from them; secondly you spend a lot of time in taxis.
These two things obviously collide quite often, and in London the legendary taxi drivers are often a chatty bunch. So if you ever get into a black cab in London you’ll almost certainly hear their views on the world as they see it.
(Of course their particular set of views and opinions tend to be some what questionable, but if you can get them away from politics and foreign policy you might just find some thing interesting).
Here’s what I found out on a recent trip:
1. Chip and Pin card readers
Paying by anything other than cash in taxis in London is usually very difficult. The few that do have card readers are often out of order or broken. Or are they? Well, probably not.
It seems that the financial charges and administration that comes with these systems is more than most cabbies care to get involved with. It’s not uncommon for one driver to borrow another’s cab, and in this situation paying by cash is much easier for them to deal with.
The simple world of ‘cash-in-hand’ suits the transactional realities of cab life. There’s an opportunity here.
2. Green Badges and Yellow Badges
There are two types of black cab driver: those who’ve done ‘The Knowledge’ and those who are learning it. If you’ve passed you have a green badge, if not you’ll have a yellow one. Yellow badge drivers have a local area that they can pick up passengers in, green badge drivers are allowed to pick up people anywhere in London.
If you’re in an outlying areas of London and spot a yellow badge, beware that if you ask for a destination across London they might not know the route. It’s probably worth checking. Or in my case, he was relying on a Sat Nav.
Also, yellow badge drivers will get dirty looks from green badge drivers in central London. “What are you doing on my patch?”
How much money do you think a cab driver gets to have his taxi wrapped in an advert for 1 year?
Apparently, £1000. Which seems pretty low. In San Francisco drivers more like that amount each month. I’m not sure if this an amazing insight, but at the very least if we all group together we could ‘buy’ a taxi for the year and have our faces on it.
4. The Knowledge in tough. Really tough.
Anyone who’s spent time in London will probably be aware of the The Knowledge. I’ll leave it to others to explain the details, but essentially its a test of geographic knowledge of the whole of London. You should be able to get into any black cab in London and ask for any destination of the thousands and thousands of streets and the cab driver should be able to get you their by the quickest route.
When you think about the reality of knowing the name of every single street in London it’s quite a mind bending feat. When you think about the mental capacity needed to link them all together it becomes astonishing. Then think about not just the route between two places, but the most efficient route. It sounds basically impossible. But it gets tougher.
Testers are know to ask for the route to very obscure places, a recently opened restaurant for example. By name only (no street address). And the example my chatty cabbie gave doesn’t even have a sign on the street front. It’s a well hidden little place. Now think about how many of them must be across the metropolis of London.
Now plan a route between two of them.
That’s what The Knowledge is.
Remember that next time you get into a black cab.