London’s most venerable taxi school has won a reprieve from its impending closure due to high rents and the rise of Uber, thanks to an agreement with the London Taxi Company, which makes the city’s iconic black cabs.
Knowledge Point, which has trained black-cab drivers for more than 30 years, was expected to go out of business at the end of last year, when its premises in Caledonian Road, Islington, were being redeveloped to make way for luxury flats.
“We were 10 days away from closing completely, we couldn’t afford the rent in central London, so their offer before Christmas was well received,” said Malcolm Linskey, the founder of the taxi school. He said the company considered moving to Leytonstone, in east London, but it was too far away from the centre of the city.
All London black-cab drivers have to complete “the knowledge”, an encyclopaedic accumulation of detail about the capital’s streets. It can take up to four years to learn the 25,000 roads within a 10km radius of Charing Cross, usually on a motor scooter in all weathers. The trainees spend hundreds of hours drawing lines on laminated maps of the city, working out the most direct routes from one destination to another.
The school, which opened in 1983, has seen 9,000 black cab drivers graduate to London’s roads. Given Knowledge Point’s crucial role in teaching cabbies, LTC has thrown the school a lifeline.
As from Monday, Knowledge Point classes will be held at LTC’s Brewery road dealership, a few metres from its former location.
“We are extremely pleased to be able to help keep Knowledge Point open,” said Peter Johansen, chief executive of LTC. “The knowledge is a proud tradition among London black-cab drivers, and still as relevant today as ever before. This intensive training sets them apart from minicab drivers, making them indispensable to London and the UK, and provides highly skilled professional jobs for 25,000 taxi drivers in London.”
LTC itself, which has a manufacturing plant in Coventry and London, needed to be rescued in 2013, when it was acquired by Geely, the Chinese carmaker that held a 20 per cent stake in the firm before it collapsed. LTC ran into problems after having to recall 500 TX4 black cabs over a steering box fault amid mounting losses at the group.
The taxi school, which has four tutors but is looking for two more, will operate out of its new premises rent free, but LTC expects to benefit given that many graduates are likely to drive black cabs. The classroom has capacity for 34 students. More than 270 drivers, from beginner to advanced levels, are currently with the school.
“It’s quid pro quo,” Linskey said. “LTC can expect a certain amount of business from the school.”
He was dismissive of Uber’s challenge to London’s black cabs, saying it was just “a blip” and claiming that complaints against the taxi app were rising.
“Novices have been lured to Uber because they can start driving in a week,” he said. “With us, training lasts at least two years. But with black cabs you’ve got two icons, the TX4 and the driver. Lots of people forget that the driver and vehicle win hands down.”