That famous test taken by London taxi drivers to ensure they all possess a certain level of familiarity with the streets of the city. Since the test was introduced in 1865 this has set aside the black cab taxi driver from any other vehicle owner on the road ensuring them a status of their own on the roads. Gradually and in a stepwise fashion this status has been undermined and diminished as technology has taken on the higher functions of their role. Anyone with a satnav receiving traffic updates can now provide an equivalent service. The black cab is now protected from further technological advances only by regulation protecting their monopoly.
Where the companies offering alternative services in USA (Lyft, Uber GetTaxi, SideCar) have started business using apps on smartphones, the local taxi drivers have widely persuaded local authorites to declare the app-based services illegal, but this Canute-like intervention will only delay the inevitable replacement of drivers with compliant computers.
Hailo and Uber have become widely used and accepted through offering significant time savings to customers and financial savings to drivers through reducing time spent searching out a fare. Richard Branson clearly understands its potential as has invested in the company. And while in the short term this improves the lot of the cabbie, it has put the customer in charge of the service.
The number of firms investing in self-driving car technology (Google, BMW, Mercedes, Tesla, Nissan, GM, ….) suggests that the autonomous car will be with us sooner than anyone would have thought just a couple of years ago with estimates ranging from 3 years hence up to 30 years. Regardless of timescale it is clearly coming and you don’t to be Einstein to imagine where that development will leave the cabbie, along with truckers, couriers and anyone whose living is earned staring through a windscreen. A sobering thought.
But for the customer this will further improve their lot: public transport has always been about public service. But the militant attitude of taxi drivers tells you their only concern is for themselves. They are terrified of the public realising they have been taken for a ride paying eye-watering fares only the elite can regularly pay. And so the meteorite of technology hurtles towards the taxi industry and the dinosaurs roar at the sky, powerless. In this case the roaring consists of clogging up London’s roads for a few hours.
Mass Extinction Event for Taxi Drivers Timeline
Status of Taxi Drivers
The Knowledge in use prior to mass ownership
Monopoly / Masters of the road
1960 – 1985
Mass ownership of cars
Special convenient service
1985 – 2005
Skilled part of their sector
2005 – 2011
2011 – 2025?
Hailo / Lyft / Uber / GetTaxi / SideCar etc
Drivers on a leash with customer in charge
Skills no longer required
Self driving taxis
Drivers not required