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Why ‘The Knowledge’ still matters in the age of Google Maps

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To qualify to drive a private hire vehicle or a minicab in London isn’t all that difficult. However, in order to become a licensed London taxi driver, you still need to master ‘The Knowledge’.

That means learning 320 routes, known as ‘runs’, along with all the street names and the order in which they appear on the route, as well as all the important landmarks along the way. What’s more, all of the ‘runs’ need to be learned in each direction, doubling the number of sequences that must be committed to memory to an impressive 640.

It’s little wonder that it takes an average of four years to prepare for and pass the written and oral examinations of the ‘All London Knowledge’. The reward for doing so is a coveted ‘Green Badge’ that entitles the holder to work as a taxi driver anywhere in Greater London.

But, in the age of Google Maps, and ride-hailing services why bother?

How did ‘The Knowledge’ originate?

To understand that, it pays to take a trip back in time. There is no hard and fast explanation for the introduction of The Knowledge, but one common theory is that it can be traced back to the Great Exhibition of 1851, which showcased technology, products and manufacturing prowess from across the British Empire. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert presided over the grand opening and, by the time it came to a close, some six million people, including Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens, are thought to have attended.

But the crowds are also said to have attracted an influx of cabmen (who drove horse-drawn vehicles in those days). Many of them drew complaints for their shoddy practices.

In the last few years, London has seen another influx of ‘cabmen’, thanks to the proliferation of a number of ridehailing services.

Man hands out worksheets to a group of people sat at desks

The Gett approach to driver training

Gett is committed to extensive, best-in-class driver training and connects users of its consumer app with fully qualified London taxi drivers who have passed The Knowledge, and who uphold the highest standards. However, several other firms have been criticised for the actions of some of the people that represent their brand, and for adopting what you might call a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to quality control.

On occasion, poorly trained drivers who don’t know the area in which they’re working can suffer the effects of over-reliance on technology. Anyone who remembers the viral picture of a Toyota Prius ‘parked’ on a set of stairs in San Francisco will know what we mean. But online forums abound with complaints and queries posted by drivers who have been failed by their navigation apps. It’s not uncommon.

#Uber tries to drive down stairs, gets stuck in #SanFrancisco‘s #Castro. No injuries reported https://t.co/viimWEPaEE pic.twitter.com/D5XtOQQkPY

— KRON4 News (@kron4news) March 26, 2018

Man versus machine?

So, as useful as navigation apps such as Google Maps can be, they can’t fully replace genuine human expertise – and, unlike a London cabbie’s cherished Green Badge, they don’t grant the user access to bus lanes, which can cut journey times by up to 30%.

That’s not to say that technology isn’t important. Applying it effectively is at the heart of what we do at Gett. However, technology alone doesn’t provide a complete solution. There are things that it’s still not able to do – and won’t be capable of for some time to come.

That’s why, when it comes to your journey, we are committed to connecting you with trained drivers who take pride in their work and have the level of professionalism required to act, dress and drive appropriately. What’s more, if technology ever lets them down, they’ll still be able to get you where you need to go.

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