Uber is really the new Knowledge

Four million years ago people realised they could make a living ferrying people around London in exchange for money. This mutated into the ‘taxicab‘ network that exists today and in other cities throughout the world.

Back in the days before satnavs or even properly drawn maps, it was essential that the taxicab driver knew his way around. To try to keep out the riff-raff from joining the highly lucrative business, those already making their riches from being ‘humble cabbies’ developed a major barrier to the casual person wanting to get in on the action. It is nicknamed ‘The Knowledge‘.

The Knowledge is, well, knowledge of routes to most areas, the locations of places of interest, and the to and fro across the whole of London. It takes about 3 years to learn The Knowledge and that usually consists of the learner driving the routes on a scooter and then passing a series of assessments. Of course, the original ‘cabbies’ didn’t have to do The Knowledge, but in order to try to keep the trade a closed shop it was developed for the new entrants.

(A relic from the dinosaur age!)

Taxicabs, usually known as ‘black cabs‘, can be hailed in the areas they are licensed by the relevant local authority to operate within, and are supposed to pick up anybody hailing and not refuse any request to go to anywhere. In reality they will refuse a fare and hurriedly drive away if the passenger asks to go somewhere they don’t feel like going. Often this will be because the journey will take them away from the lucrative core areas they want to work.

The fare is calculated by a meter that combines an amount for time taken with mileage driven. Plus they add on charges for luggage and number of passengers. Cabbies also expect a ‘tip’ and get grumpy if they are not given one. In addition to being hailed on the street, some black cabs can be requested to an address by phone. They will start their meter wherever they might be and will have clocked up many £s worth of fare before even arriving at the pick-up point.

In London, private hire vehicles started in order to offer ordinary cars to supplement the ‘black cabs‘, usually offering much cheaper fares and only charging for the journey from pick-up to drop off. These services got nicknamed ‘mini-cabs‘. Outside of the London area they seem to just be called ‘taxis‘. In Liverpool, the black cabs tend to be called ‘Hackneys‘ whilst the ‘mini-cabs‘ are just ‘taxis‘. Probably similar differences can be found in different UK regions.

Apart from being cheaper, mini-cabs have to adhere to all the same regulations as black cabs, with the exception that the drivers don’t need ‘The Knowledge‘. However, mini-cabs cannot be hailed on the street. They have to have been ordered by phone. Or more recently by app.
A mini-cab driver, having passed his or her basic exams in order to hold a PHV (private hire vehicle) licence, having had a DBS check, and being fully insured, having not pre-invested 3 years of his or her life into the trade can use ‘mini-cabbing‘ on a part-time basis to supplement their wages from a daytime job.

And so to Uber.

Uber is a brilliant app that I use all the time. Everybody should sign-up to Uber, IMHO.

uberTo describe Uber. Well, you pre-sign-up with a credit or debit card, so you never have to use cash. When needing a cab, you fire up the Uber app and it automatically shows you where you are on a map. It also shows moving car graphics representing the location of the nearest Uber cabs, and gives you an approximate time for one to get to you. You can simply press to get the nearest to drive to pick you up. For fun you can watch it on the map getting closer to you. For your own security you get a picture of the driver, the make, model and registration plate of his car, and a text as they get within 100 metres. You tell the app where you are going, and this information is already with the driver when he arrives. The driver’s version of the Uber app calculates the best route and all he has to do is follow it as he might follow any satnav.

After arriving at the destination the fare is automatically taken from the registered credit or debit card. Plus, rather like with eBay, you give the driver a star rating and can leave any comments as feedback. He does the same about you.

The fare itself is a combination of the mileage and the time taken, and an approximation can be given before actually booking the pick-up if you are worried about how much it might be. Pick-ups can’t be pre-booked, they have to happen from the moment you request them. So, this can mean there is no Uber available for hire. When there is, even in Liverpool it’s never more than 5 minutes away. My experience in Liverpool is that they are usually about 2 or 3 minutes. Brilliant.

You don’t know each other’s phone numbers but can send text messages via the app, or even call each other if there are problems with getting to the exact pick-up point.

Black cabs hate mini-cabs at the best of times. And they really hate Uber.

There is of course, nothing stopping a black cab driver also working for Uber. However, they would prefer to just get rid of Uber.

That’s why they went to court yesterday to protest the app. And they did that annoying thing they do when they all drive in a convoy blocking the roads for normal people.

It seems to me that black cabs are a throwback to a time that is no longer relevant to modern day. There is no need for The Knowledge. After a basic course and understanding, security checks, and everything being in order, anybody should be allowed on the roads ferrying people around.

The mental Luddites from the black cabs took Uber to court to try to stop Uber from functioning. And yesterday the court ruled that Uber should just carry on.

Surely, what needs to go to court is a challenge for the need for the ridiculous ‘Knowledge‘. Heck, satnavs have replaced the need to squish all that ‘knowledge‘ into a person’s head. And with the dynamic ‘live’ versions, so much more is known by the satnav than by the driver who may be unaware of congestion, accidents or road works until he is stuck in them.

If anything, we no longer need the conventional taxicabs. In London, quite rightly, the buses no longer take cash fares. It’s time the need for old fashioned black-cabs was phased out too.

I mean, drivers wanting to stay with their old fashioned, overpriced and out of date taxi service are a bit weird aren’t they? I bet they still have black and white TVs at home!

Here’s to a faster and cheaper Uber future!