The forthcoming taxi Knowledge test will put Melbourne's prospective cabbies and some current drivers through a rigorous, three-hour exam in which they must answer 85 per cent of 155 questions correctly to pass.
The driver aptitude test, part of a major overhaul of Victoria's taxi industry by the state government, will begin in May.
A shorter pilot test was launched on Monday, containing 60 multiple-choice questions on geographical knowledge, the road rules and customer service. The test also has a heavy focus on serving passengers with disabilities.
Fairfax Media sat the pilot test, which includes a sample of the questions the full Knowledge test will contain.
Some questions would stump many long-time Melburnians. For example, could you identify the Princess Theatre, Her Majesty's Theatre and the Comedy Theatre on a map of the city centre? Is the Cox Plate held at Flemington, Moonee Valley or Caulfield racecourse?
Others will sorely test some of the industry's most stridently held conventions, such as the expectation that passengers will always take the cab at the front of the rank, and the reluctance of many drivers to accept short fares from Melbourne Airport.
The test will include road knowledge as well as focus on customer service. Photo: Justin McManus
Taxi Services Commissioner Graeme Samuel said the Knowledge test would gradually "weed out" the worst drivers.
"What we think will happen is that gradually the cream will rise to the top," Mr Samuel said.
"Already there are some very, very good drivers out there, they dress impeccably, they're courteous, they don't reject short fares, they know where they're going. But we've got unfortunately a large group of inadequate drivers who don't dress well, don't keep their cabs clean, they don't know where to go. Sometimes they can't speak English, and that's the biggest complaint we get from passengers."
Existing drivers who have been accredited for less than five years must sit the test, as will all prospective drivers. They will have two chances to pass, or will be barred from resitting for a year.
Mr Samuel said he held no fear that the test could create a taxi driver shortage should too many applicants fail. Operators have regularly complained that a shortage of taxi drivers is one of the industry's more intractable problems.
"There are 15,000 drivers on the road," Mr Samuel said.
Many pilot test questions centred on familiarity with Melbourne's suburbs and the road network, but there was an equal focus on customer service.
For example, one question dealt with whether a driver is entitled to refuse to take a passenger to a destination he or she considers unsafe (the example used was a group of young men going out on a Saturday night asking, "Hey bru, can you take us to Sunshine Plaza?").
Others grilled drivers on how to properly respond to a passenger who offers a $50 tip to speed to the airport so as not to miss a plane, and whether it is acceptable to refuse to take a passenger who is drunk.