The taxi-driver thumb rule

Cab drivers in urban India have a reputation for being terrible drivers. They cut people off and veer across lanes to take turns, while honking as if their life depended on the incessant noise.

But this isn’t true of cab drivers everywhere. It is common wisdom in London that it is safest to step into a pedestrian crossing when a black-cab driver approaches it. Getting a black-cab driving license is incredibly difficult, and even minor traffic violations get the drivers in trouble with the licensing authorities. That is why these drivers are among the safest drivers in London.

Taxi-drivers are the most representative drivers in a particular road system. They spend the most amount of time on the road. They have their skin in the game. They are also experts in picking up on the norms and figuring out what works. If they are rewarded for honking and throwing their weight around, they would do that. If they are punished for these actions, they would try something else and eventually figure out whatever works.

The taxi-driver thumb rule serves as a measure of how well a road system is designed. It is also true that an Indian taxi drivers performs one of the world’s hardest jobs – spending 12 hours a day on a road system that is as chaotic, dangerous and emotionally draining. In a particular road system, the better behaved the cabs are, the better is its systemic design.

Who are the taxi-drivers of your system?

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