The iconic black cab is synonymous with London and black cab drivers are often revered as having the best knowledge of the city’s roads. With the number of people they’ve picked up and dropped off, it goes without saying that they have a story or two to share!
Stella Wood has been in the trade for almost 14 years and lives in Bermondsey with her two kids and a dog called Molly. Surprisingly only around 2% of London’s black cab drivers are female, despite an array of perks the job has, such as the flexibility in choosing own working hours and days. We interviewed Stella to find out what life as a London black cab driver is really like.
How long have you wanted to be a black cab driver for?
I didn’t have any ambitions to become a taxi driver, none of my family were connected to the taxi industry. A friend asked me to do the knowledge with her and at the time I had young children so thought it might be a suitable job to fit around school hours etc. It took me approximately two years to conquer my nerves to ride a scooter in London traffic!! I always considered 4 wheels better than two, I’m with Jeremy Clarkson on that one!!
Why did you want to become a black cab driver?
I thought becoming a licensed London taxi driver would be good for the freedom it gives, being able to start and finish when I want, it also affords me the luxury of taking time off to go on holiday etc and not having to take my turn on a rota.
How long did the Knowledge take to complete and what does the test comprise of?
It took 3 years of self-funding to complete the “knowledge”, the first two years I worked part-time and for the final year I gave up work and concentrated on getting the “coveted” green badge. The “knowledge” comprises of a map test and a series of “appearances”, which were one-to-one oral examinations with different examiners, wherein the examiner would ask you to state the location of two “points”, these could be streets, places of interest, basically anywhere a passenger might like to be taken, then a description of the shortest possible route between the two had to be given. To an extent I enjoyed doing the “knowledge” albeit it’s a tad long-winded. London is a fascinating place with lots of amazing architecture, I did enjoy exploring all the places in the city that I had never been to before.
Do you think that if you weren’t a parent you would have been less inclined to be a black cab driver?
Yes. When the children were younger I used to work split shifts. My work enabled me to be home when the children returned from school and to take them to their sports activities in the evening and also to earn a decent income.
What hours do you usually work?
My children are adults now so I tend to work a straight shift of around 8 hours, sometimes less, it depends on how busy it is and how much income I need. I usually work 6 days a week which enables me to save for holidays, clothes, handbags and shoes!! I start my shift any time between 5 or 6pm and work through till about 12am – 2am.
What does your typical day consist of? Do you have any regular customs?
No, I just like getting in the cab and getting the job done. I occasionally stop and meet with another taxi driver friend for coffee, or maybe dinner, I don’t like wasting too much time.
Do you have any favourite haunts in London?
Not particularly, however I love driving over Waterloo Bridge, I think the views from there are amazing, arguably the best in London!
Are there any parts of London that you don’t like driving to?
There isn’t anywhere really, although I try to avoid Soho and Piccadilly on a Friday / Saturday night, mainly because of traffic but there are some places I’m never really asked to go, such as Harlesden.
Are there any drawbacks of the job?
It’s a solitary job as you don’t have the same interaction you would if working in an office. You cannot have any real in-depth conversation with passengers as you rarely “pick up” the same person twice. Taxi driving can affect your social life if you choose to work irregular hours, weekends etc. It does interfere with mine somewhat as I choose to work those unsocial hours, but that’s when in my opinion business is most lucrative. Also, being self-employed means there is no pension, holiday or sick pay, I am entirely self-reliant.
Have you ever encountered a difficult situation whilst on the job?
There have been occasions when someone has been in the cab and I have had an uneasy feeling about them and been glad when they have departed. It is essential working at night to keep the cab doors locked to avoid unnecessary problems, i.e. drunks, as sometimes the person who comes to the window isn’t necessarily the person who gets in. Those situations don’t happen very often fortunately. I never really feel frightened or intimidated working nights.
How have minicab services affected business?
It has been quieter over Christmas this year, due to increased use of services such as Uber. The competition is a lot stronger now and a lot of people don’t want to wait outside in the cold hailing a cab. Apps make it much more convenient for people to get a cab from the comfort of their own home.
Thanks to Stella, for providing an insight into what it’s like to be a female black cab driver.
Clegg Gifford insures some 44,000 taxis under the Westminster brand name and has been arranging taxi insurance for 40 years.