Uber is under-cutting taxi drivers by escaping regulation, and they’re not happy about it
Anti-Uber taxi drivers will go ahead with today’s planned protest, beginning in Trafalgar Square at 2pm, despite failing to meet with London Metropolitan Police. Timed to coincide with similar protests around Europe, the plan is to shut down parts of central London by parking their taxis in the street. Though the Met Police have now imposed restrictions on the time and size of the protest, expect a severe halt of traffic around the central London area, as 12,000 drivers are expected to be taking part.
The drivers’ main concern is the regulation, or rather lack thereof, of how Uber operates. It’s essentially operating as a taxi company, doing more than simply “connecting riders with drivers” as uber.com claims. The app will also work out the cost of the trip, which taxi drivers are saying is the equivalent of a taxi meter, which only London black cabs are legally allowed to use. Uber also supplies drivers with everything they need to be a private hire taxi driver, everything except the cars themselves, which are owned by the drivers. It is a very thin line dividing Uber, recently invested in by Google, from other cab companies, but it does so by approving technically self-employed drivers and giving them the Uber app to find riders also using the app. They are not actually licensed as public cabs, and the app isn’t technically a taxi meter. It is this position on the fine line of legality that has taxi drivers hitting the streets today in protest.
Uber has listened, however, and in a move that some might call too little, too late, or others might call ingenious PR, has come out with a new taxi service add-on to their app to appease taxi drivers. UberTAXI allows users to book and pay for black cab services, with a commission for Uber capped at 5%. UberTAXI is now one of four options riders can choose from in the Uber app and doesn’t change how any of the other services function, including the aforementioned meter. It does not seem like launching it on the same day as the London protest will make any difference in what the taxi drivers have against Uber, although it may help shape public opinion in the app’s favour.
Eventually, the fight will come to the High Court where Transport for London, who say Uber does not need to be regulated, will have to defend their position against the taxi drivers’ claims. Essentially the riposte from Uber and TfL is that the time-and-distance-measuring app is not connected to the car, and is therefore not a taxi meter. What the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association wants the 12m people that use Uber per week to keep in mind, however, is that unlicensed cab drivers, along with not following strict conditions of fitness and knowledge of London, could be the strangers your parents warned you to never get in a car with. Unlicensed, unregulated, needing the Sat Nav for nearly every corner, but ultimately quite a lot cheaper, Uber continues to grow in popularity with users, and it will be interesting to see what kind of affect today’s protest will have on those numbers.
The amount of people I know who learned about Uber today (“Sounds ace!”) because of the black cab protest is deeply ironic.
— Caitlin Moran (@caitlinmoran) June 11, 2014
Supporting all the black cab drivers out there today. One of them saved my Mums life once I never found out his name pic.twitter.com/QYNvXUmO8K
— John E Jones (@Seasons_Bar) June 11, 2014
Image: Jorge Royan