Lessons from London Black Cabs


Raj Verma


Lessons from London Black Cabs

Not too long ago, both New York City’s yellow taxis and London’s black cabs were iconic. There was even a TV show about New York taxis whose reruns still stream today — remember Taxi?

If you visit New York today, those taxis are a dying breed, yet in London, the black cabs are thriving. Have you ever wondered why? 

In almost every city I visit, I haven't taken a taxi in five years thanks to Uber, Lyft and the ridesharing industry. London is another story. When I visit there, I cannot wait to step into a black cab. Just this summer, I had a London black cab take me to a favorite restaurant. I realized how much I enjoyed the ride, in part because the car was clean and roomy, but what made it a great experience was the human touch.

The driver was conscientious, he answered my questions about landmarks and buildings along the way, he was polite and engaging and when we reached my destination, he dropped me off at the spot best for me — not where it was easiest for him. When I asked him how the black cabs survived the disruption of the ridesharing industry and the millions of dollars spent on technology, his answer was simple: by creating a better product and better customer experience. 

During that ride, I realized something important. Human tenacity can provide a way for businesses to withstand the barrage of new technologies through a superior experience.

As the CEO of a tech company, I have an appreciation for the power of technology and how it has changed our world and our lives. But that doesn’t mean we must always completely replace human approaches with technology. In fact, if human methods can adapt to tech innovations, while maintaining their human touch, I believe they can maintain their appeal, even amidst new offerings. The London black cabs are a great example of this.

When faced with rideshare competition, the London drivers realized they needed to incorporate technology and offer better products, including nicer and more comfortable cars. These upgrades were tangible. The intangible upper hand they knew they held was their deep knowledge of the city and ability to provide a personal experience.

Becoming a cab driver in London requires extensive training. “The Knowledge,” as London cab drivers have coined the term, is a training program that requires trainees to memorize 25,000 streets and more than 20,000 landmarks to become a black cab driver. Compare this to other rideshare drivers who use a GPS system to get passengers from point A to point B. The experience is basic and impersonal. Unlike the rideshare companies, the London black cabs have managed to maintain a human touch. 

I believe there is a lesson in the London cab story for all of us – the potential for competition to make us better. It is important to consider what is changing in your industry, other fields, and global developments and use this information to stay innovative. A superior, adaptable product with strong human will is the best way to safeguard your profession, your business. 

London black cabs have proven their resiliency in a world where technology has forced them to adapt. The need for a human touch cannot be undervalued. I cannot wait for my next trip to London and the opportunity to take a black cab. Who knows what I'll learn next.