Wednesday 27th January 2016 was one of the happiest days of my life. It's up there with the day we got engaged, the day we got married and the day our daughter was born. To most, this day looked like any other rainy miserable Wednesday. But for me, it was the day I got my husband back. He hadn't left me or had a brush with death. He hadn't been working abroad or missing. He'd been around, but he hadn't been with us so to speak. His head had been somewhere else entirely for around five years. But on this very special Wednesday he finally sent me a simple message. One that I'd been waiting for in anticipation: "I've done it. x", the message read. My heart burst with pride and relief, I knew I'd got my husband back.
After five long gruelling years of studying, my husband had passed "The Knowledge", also known as "The Knowledge of London," in order to be a licensed black taxi driver in and around London. To most people this won't sound like much of a big deal, but I can assure you that to me, my family and the thousands of other licensed black taxi drivers and their families, it really is a big deal.
For the last five years our life has revolved around Jack studying the Knowledge. It's always been a profession that he's wanted to pursue, but achieving this has come at a price. You can't fail the Knowledge unless you give up, and there hasn't been a single moment or day in our life in recent years that hasn't been governed by his dedication to achieving his licence.
My husband's day would start and end with studying. Every family outing would revolve around him revising before, and always leaving early to come home and finish where he'd left off. Every tea break at work he would study. Every day off he would study. Every holiday hasn't really been a holiday - even on our honeymoon he would slip away for hours on end to study out of the sun to concentrate. Even when I was in labour for fifteen hours he was by my side going over runs whilst holding my hand and rubbing my back. The day after our daughter was born he was studying for hours in between running newborn errands and tending to his wife and new baby. There is no denying that he has sacrificed so much in order to become a licensed London black taxi driver.
I'd often watch him studying. Perched by the window in our living room staring at a giant map of London - a map I grew to hate the sight of as it got all of his attention. His shoulders always hunched over with the weight of thousands of street names and London landmarks. Memorising crucial points, right and left turns, every dead end, every one way street and just where to 'set down' correctly as to avoid a penalty.
For hours and hours on end he would sit there, penning runs on his laminated map (the shortest possible route between two designated points of interest.) Completely random places, all little pieces of the London puzzle that would someday all fit together and he'd finally be rewarded for his hard work. With every glance at the back of his head, I hoped he knew just how incredibly proud I was of him. Proud that he was giving up so much of his life for us in order to better himself, to better us, and to achieve something that is so respected as a profession. Or at least we thought it was. You'd have to live in a cave to not be even remotely aware of the licensed black taxi drivers vs the dodgy app mini cab booking service feud that has been boiling over for the last year.
Transport For London quote in their Knowledge guidebook that "to achieve the required standard to be licensed as an 'All London' taxi driver you will need a thorough knowledge, primarily of the area within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross". So where are the "standards" being earned by the monster app company? It's estimated that around 600 "licenses" are being carelessly dished out each week to drivers, many of who seemingly have not been in the country for very long, let alone driving in it. Whereas it takes on average four years to earn your 'All London' black taxi license. So how on earth is this right?
There are so many reasons why this whole debacle is just plain wrong and immensely upsetting for anyone involved.
I can sit here and bang on about the obvious points to this argument, such as the inexperienced drivers, the public's safety, lack of criminal checks on the drivers and how bloody infuriating it is that this company is clearly getting away with so much more than should be allowed. But what most people don't realise, is that the argument isn't entirely against the app company. It's against the governing body that are dishonouring such a treasured, iconic and valued public service.
It's simply making a mockery out of a much respected profession.
For those, in support of the unregulated mini cabs, arguing that they are providing a cheaper service - then quality and high standards clearly aren't a priority in life. That's a shame - but I wouldn't sleep easy at night. It might not be long before other professions are trampled on by the government? How long before they make your professional experience and knowledge a joke?
TFL are supposed to be responsible for the public's transport safety. For me, a black taxi in London is a beacon of safety. If ever I was lost, alone or stranded, hailing a black taxi would signal that I was in safe hands. Now it is a symbol of my child's future. Your safety isn't guaranteed when using this app service. In fact criminal checks are only interested in the length of time a person has been living in the country. This could be years or it could be as little as three weeks. What does this say about a government that stands to protect us as a nation in such uncertain times?
I don't care much for politics. But I do care for people. I care for good hardworking people who do things by the book. What kind of message are we sending to our children if dedication and commitment to achieving anything can be so easily shunned and replaced by something so careless and potentially dangerous. If technology is the future, then why should anyone use their brains anymore? Sod it, let's all not bother thinking or learning anymore. Someday there will be a computer or an app that will do everything for us. Even more frightening, will it reach a point where anyone can become a doctors or a surgeon? No need for any prior qualifications or dedication to the profession, just download an app that tells you how to remove a blocked artery or a cancerous mass. Going by the same logic, this would make it more achievable and fairer for the average person to adopt this profession? Would the public have something to say about that one day?
For years we've waited for this time in our lives to come. It was meant to be a time to celebrate and a time to enjoy everything Jack has achieved and everything we have been through as a family to get to this point. It's heartbreaking to think that it might be short-lived if the trade is pushed out by a global company that has the undeserved and unreasonable backing TFL. An organisation whose very own handbook states that the "highest of standards" are required to drive the public in and around our London town. A key quality that is clearly not-required when casually handing out licenses to any old person with the ability to start a vehicle.
Today in central London there will be a gathering of solidarity amongst black taxi drivers and their families to show their frustration and angst towards the unfair handling of the situation they find themselves in. They aren't protesting against technology. They are protesting to save their profession, their livelihood. The years they put in to earning their licence. The years they lost working for that license. Most of all they are protesting against a governing body that isn't protecting the "high standards" that they promote all London taxi drivers should have.
Please, please show your support in the fight to support our London Black Taxis. Whether you share this post, hail a black taxi today, or simply choose to educate yourself further about the issue, any support will be very much appreciated. Without the risk of sounding like Katniss Everdeen, provoking an uprising in the Hunger Games, we need to fight for our people. We need to fight for our traditions and for a well respected trade. We need to support high standards, and for the bloody hard work that goes into making those standards available to the public. That's you and me.
Until next time...
With Love & Supporting London Black Taxis,