London’s black taxis

In the world of transportation, taxi cabs populate the very bottom rung of the ladder–unless, of course, you happen to be sitting in the back seat of a black taxi in London. This is because the drivers who pilot black taxis must first pass what is undoubtedly the most difficult taxi exam on this planet: the Knowledge.

The Knowledge tests a driver’s ability to not only memorize “37,000 roads, monuments, hotels, pubs, police stations and hospitals in London,” but to also know the shortest distance between two points. Think this is difficult? Kim Murphy, writing for the Los Angeles Times, tells us that it takes prospective drivers more than 40 months to master this breadth of knowledge. The result, according to a study conducted in 2000, is that London taxi drivers not only have a hippocampus larger than the general population, but this part of the brain that “governs memory and spatial navigation” actually increases in size the longer a London cabbie works his job.

But all is not perfect in the world of the black taxi. Cries of racism and sexism from those seeking to pass the Knowledge have resulted in the mayor of London initiating a program to help women and minorities with the arduous process of acquiring the difficult black taxi license. Like all such programs, this one is also facing its share of challenges.