The Green Badge Of Knowledge

It’s what London cabbies get when they pass a grueling test that requires them “to learn by heart all 320 sample runs that are listed in the Blue Book, the would-be cabbie’s bible,” along with committing to memory “the 25,000 streets, roads, avenues, courts, lanes, crescents, places, mews, yards, hills, and alleys that lie within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross.” In a deep-dive look at the process of conquering “The Knowledge,” Roff Smith compares old-school cab drivers to those using modern technology to navigate the city:

Proponents of Uber say Sat Nav technology makes The Knowledge obsolete. Not surprisingly, London’s cabbies disagree.

They’re quick to point out that Sat Navs have a knack for getting things wrong, do not always pick the best or quickest route, and that having thousands of cabs idling curbside while their drivers punch in addresses for their Sat Navs will further clog London’s streets, where average speeds have already dropped below nine miles an hour.

It’s not simply a matter of speed, either, cabbies say. A driver who relies on Sat Nav doesn’t know the city. “I like to put it this way,” says 18-year veteran David Styles, who writes a blog about life behind the wheel: “When gentlemen have enjoyed supper at their club with their old regimental chums, they need a taxi to take them to the station. As they can generally afford to live in East Sussex, their station, Victoria, is only six minutes from Pall Mall. Depending on which entrance they want, they ask for The Shakespeare, Old Gatwick, or Hole in the Wall. Show me a Sat Nav which not only has that database but can be programmed in seconds, and I’ll buy shares in it myself.”

He continues: “And actors don’t want to arrive at the front of the theater. They want the stage door. And yes, we have to learn those too.”

Hail one of London’s iconic “black” cabs (which nowadays can come in any color) from anywhere you please within the greater London area, tell the driver where you want to go—it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Tower of London or some obscure pub in an outer suburb—and by the time you’ve climbed in the back seat and closed the door, he’ll have already calculated the most direct, swiftest route, without ever looking at a map.