Thousands of black cab drivers brought disruption to central London in protest at the regulation of rival cab services such as Uber.
Uber has been the focus of anger from taxi drivers across European countries, including Spain and France. On Wednesday Uber announced that a black cab service was being added to its app platform, meaning drivers of the classic London cab can now be booked through the app if they sign up.
The Google-backed app allows users to order a car at the touch of a button, and the fare is calculated using GPS tracking. But traditional cab drivers claim this is effectively a taxi meter, which only black cabs are legally entitled to use in the capital.
Part time drivers
In the five years of its existence, San Francisco-based Uber has expanded its operation into more than 100 cities across 30 countries, causing conflict in its wake with traditional taxi associations.
Uber drivers receive jobs through their smartphones and users download an app to their mobile which they use to book cabs, wherever they may be. That much has already been offered to Londoners by firms like Kabbee and Hailo.
Uber has provoked controversy because of its pool of drivers. Anyone with a Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) licence can sign up with them. This has allowed Uber to build up a vast number of drivers quickly, many of whom only work part-time.
This makes Uber more like a minicab firm. But unlike a traditional minicab firm, there are no human operators available to take the booking on the phone at their offices. The process is completely automated by Uber’s software, which allocates a booking to the driver best placed to take it on.
There are some 25,000 black cabs in London which can be flagged down in the street and use a metre to calculate fares.
There are a further 44,000 private-hire minicabs which must be pre-booked with a set fare and destination.
The transport authority is seeking clarification from the High Court over whether or not services such as Uber should be licensed, and say this week’s action is “pointless”.
Garrett Emmerson, TfL’s chief operating officer for surface transport, said: “A number of taxi drivers are set to cause pointless disruption for Londoners over a legal issue that is down to the courts to decide upon. TfL will work with the Metropolitan Police to do all we can to keep central London moving, however, given the scale of the likely disruption, we would advise drivers to avoid the area if at all possible.”
Mick Cash, acting general secretary of the RMT transport union, said: “There will be serious disruption on Wednesday. But that will be nothing compared to the disruption and dangers of allowing our licensed taxis to be driven from our streets through a combination of ignorance and greed.”