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March 9, 2015 7:55 AM   Subscribe

Cabbies’ Street Knowledge Takes Back Seat [New York Times]
New York cabbies have long had to face a rigorous set of geography questions on the test they must pass to get a license. Now those questions have disappeared.
Related: Who Needs a GPS? A New York Geography Quiz
posted by Fizz (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Man, this is only going to make it harder to be a cannibal that subsists entirely on cabbie hippocampus.
posted by Jpfed at 8:01 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Now those questions have disappeared, happily for future test-takers, perhaps not so much for those who will be riding in the back seats."

Nearly every time I took a cab in NYC I had to give the driver directions. So what exactly were they being tested on?
posted by I-baLL at 8:04 AM on March 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


I once had a cab driver in Toronto who didn't know where the airport was. We had to use google maps to give him directions because he missed the exit and got totally turned around. True story.

So yeah I don't think this is a good thing.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:04 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't think this is specific to cab drivers. Sense of direction and basic skills of navigation/geography are skills many people lack because we all have tiny screens that will tell us where to go and how to get there.
posted by Fizz at 8:09 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I got 73% on the quiz, and I've lived here for 12 years. You have to be REALLY exact.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:16 AM on March 9, 2015


Nearly every time I took a cab in NYC I had to give the driver directions. So what exactly were they being tested on?

That's my experience of cabbies in NYC too. I always figured I was just spoilt because I live in London, where cabbies still have to pass the fearsome exam known as The Knowledge.
posted by Paul Slade at 8:17 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


A quibble: "In recent years, online car services like Uber and Lyft have taken hold in New York City, as they have elsewhere, and those services require neither a hack license, nor that their drivers be tested by the city on geography."

This isn't entirely true; in NYC you have to have a Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) license and work for a TLC-licensed company to (legally) drive for Uber and Lyft. I've never been in an unlicensed Uber (and plenty of unlicensed non-Uber cars) so it seems to be working.
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 8:17 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I once had a cab driver in Toronto who didn't know where the airport was. We had to use google maps to give him directions because he missed the exit and got totally turned around. True story.

So yeah I don't think this is a good thing.


I once tried to catch a cab from the Los Angeles Convention Center, which is in downtown LA, to the Kyoto Grand Hotel, which is at the corner of Los Angeles Street and 2nd. The cabbie didn't know where that was, so he typed "LOS ANGELES" into his GPS.
posted by rlk at 8:18 AM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Writing has spoiled the memories of all of our bards and minstrels, no one even bothers anymore to learn the proper mnemonics for epic poems to amuse our kings.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:23 AM on March 9, 2015 [19 favorites]


More than once, NYC cabbies have asked me to look up directions to someplace on my phone, and upon hearing that I was out of batteries, sighed and turned on their own GPS which they'd had the entire time but didn't want to bother using.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:24 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


You do not need a TLC license id you're driving an Uber black car. You only need to be a professional chauffeur with a commercial license and commercial auto insurance.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:24 AM on March 9, 2015




Sense of direction and basic skills of navigation/geography are skills many people lack because we all have tiny screens that will tell us where to go and how to get there.

I dunno. I feel like my general sense of layout for cities is vastly improved by being able to look at maps in context of where I am.
posted by rh at 8:29 AM on March 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


Writing has spoiled the memories of all of our bards and minstrels, no one even bothers anymore to learn the proper mnemonics for epic poems to amuse our kings.

These comparisons would make more sense if writing was the product of billions of dollars in military research.
posted by gorbweaver at 8:31 AM on March 9, 2015


Sense of direction and basic skills of navigation/geography are skills many people lack because we all have tiny screens that will tell us where to go and how to get there.

I've lived in the same city for twenty-five years and love having a GPS to help me when I get lost in some random obscure neighborhood. Some cities are easy to navigate and some resist all attempts to ever understand.
posted by octothorpe at 8:33 AM on March 9, 2015


All cabbies should be using GPS, no questions asked. I hate it when they ask me for directions. It's not my job to know how to get anywhere, that's why I'm taking a cab. If you're a cabbie and you know how to get to where I'm going, don't turn on the GPS fine I don't care. But there should be 0 interaction between us after I've told you the destination. That's why I don't give a shit about how the cabbie knows where to go. If they remember from before that's fine, if they're looking at their GPS, even better. If the geography questions makes cabbies overconfident about their abilities then it's good to get rid of them. Although recently I had an Uber guy refuse to drive me to my suburb because even with GPS he was afraid of getting lost. That's too far in the other direction.
posted by bleep at 8:38 AM on March 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Some cities are easy to navigate and some resist all attempts to ever understand.

NYC is easy as pie to navigate because it's laid out like a grid. Everyone knows that - I mean look at how intuitively simpel it is to get around Queens:
Similarly, the Avenues go to the southern border and go as high as 167th Avenue. When the blocks are small or are added after the initial layout and assignment, additional names appear. These are assigned, in order, Road, Drive, then Terrace. This is why only some numbers have the additional designations of Road, Drive or Terrace. As an example, if three streets were to be added between 21st Avenue and 22nd Avenue, the sequence would become 21st Avenue, 21st Road, 21st Drive, 21st Terrace, and then 22nd Avenue.
posted by a manly man person who is male and masculine at 8:41 AM on March 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


I always get a feeling that cabbies are asking for directions not because they don't know it but because they want to test whether it will be ok for them to take you on an impromptu city tour.

Most of the times I have been asked about directions is when I don't seem to have a smartphone with me.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 8:42 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sense of direction and basic skills of navigation/geography are skills many people lack because we all have tiny screens that will tell us where to go and how to get there.

I had no sense of direction or navigation skills long before I had any tiny screens.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 8:54 AM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: "I got 73% on the quiz, and I've lived here for 12 years. You have to be REALLY exact."

I got a 72. That means that you were overall more accurate than 71% of the other folks who took the test. In some cases, accurate did not matter so much such as the St John the Devine Church. No one was that accurate on that one. I am proud to say I nailed Yankee Stadium and the World's Fair in Queens one!
posted by 724A at 9:01 AM on March 9, 2015


So I just retook the test and could only get 80%. Ugh.
posted by 724A at 9:06 AM on March 9, 2015


86% here. I'll take it.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:10 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Honestly, the biggest problem I had with the test was not being able to zoom in and see where certain streets were: "well, I know that LaGuardia's off the BQE - wait, where's the BQE on this map? What street IS that? ...Well, it looks like that's A thoroughfare, lemme guess and see if that's the right one - oh, crap, I was wrong."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:38 AM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I once tried to catch a cab from the Los Angeles Convention Center, which is in downtown LA, to the Kyoto Grand Hotel, which is at the corner of Los Angeles Street and 2nd. The cabbie didn't know where that was, so he typed "LOS ANGELES" into his GPS.

"Well, it says we're here."
posted by entropone at 12:59 PM on March 9, 2015


Man, I got 76% and I haven't lived in New York in 25 years. I got quite a few in the 98th percentile, too. My worst answer was the Unisphere, but in my defense, Queens is the only borough I never actually got to.

One thing that got me around Manhattan in those days was a tremendously detailed pocket guide that was chock-full of axonometric representations of parts of the city (though to be sure, the tourist-friendly parts). Michelin?
posted by dhartung at 1:52 PM on March 9, 2015


"I don't think this is specific to cab drivers."

Well sure, but it's a cab drivers JOB to know this stuff. I mean most of us can't fix a plumbing system, but I sure as heck expect a plumber to be able to.
posted by el io at 2:46 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fizz: "Sense of direction and basic skills of navigation/geography are skills many people lack because we all have tiny screens that will tell us where to go and how to get there."

Pre-phone GPS I had a sense of navigation but no sense of geography. That is, I could find any place in my old neighborhood, but because the roads weren't straight and the intersections were seldom at right angles, I didn't know how any of the places geographically related. If you asked me how to get somewhere, I could write a great list of directions to get you there ("Take the left fork at the video shop. Turn right at the Burger King. Turn left at the arcade"), but there's no way I could draw a map. Now, thanks to having looked at a tiny map of my new neighborhood on a tiny screen so many times, I can not only tell you (without looking at my phone) how to get somewhere, but I can even draw a map from memory. So, for me at least, having a GPS in my pocket has really improved my sense of geography.
posted by Bugbread at 7:01 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always get a feeling that cabbies are asking for directions not because they don't know it but because they want to test whether it will be ok for them to take you on an impromptu city tour.

Yeah. This is one of the myriad reasons why Uber is a better experience as a passenger; as long as you punch in your destination they are basically obligated to do what Google Maps says. If they decide to freelance and do worse than Google, you can complain and get a refund for the difference, since it's all being logged. So the possibility of having a driver take you on a figurative ride when you're only looking for a literal one is basically eliminated.

If cab drivers didn't want to be pounded down into nothing but a "meat interface" between mechanical systems, to be happily automated into oblivion as soon as the engineers work out the details, they probably should have given some thought to setting some sort of higher bar for professional behavior than that defined by outright criminality.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:53 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had earned a bachelor's degree and had lived in/near Chicago my whole life when I took the cab-driving and chauffeur's class and test in Chicago. I was probably more nervous studying for that test than any other test I'd ever taken, including, like, the ACT and finals in college. It was *hard* and I was extremely glad to have passed my first try, since most people, I heard, had to take it at least twice to pass. (I was just about on my last dime, so I *needed* to pass in a major way.)

I really don't remember much about the test, but it sounds a bit easier than the NYC one. (Probably because Chicago is simply an easier city to get around?) I do remember, however, that there were a lot of (foreign) men in my class who didn't even understand the concept of even-odd, and their learning curve must have been pretty steep.

Rumor was, if you couldn't pass the test, there was a lot of "license sharing" going on in certain groups of cabbies in the city. Would have been pretty hard for me, though, since I was the only blonde woman driving in the city at the time. (And as far as I ever saw, one of only two women altogether. The other lady and I used to wave at each other when we saw each other. She was an older black lady who smiled and shook her head at me every time, which I took to mean something like, "You don't belong here, you suburban-bred silly little thing.")
posted by RedEmma at 7:33 AM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


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