Apps, cabs and scabs – taxi wars turn nasty

There can be few things more depressing than waiting on a street corner in the pouring rain for a black cab, so most of us would welcome the introduction of more reputable private hire taxi companies with open arms. But, of course, black cabbies don’t see it in quite the same light – more choice might be good for the consumer, but it makes it much harder for them to make a decent living. That’s their view, anyway. One thing is for certain, they aren’t going to make life easy for any competitors. Taxi app company Hailo, which has just opened its service up to private hire vehicles having previously only operated on behalf of black cabs, has just seen its London office vandalised and the word ‘scab’ daubed on its walls.

Rules of the road

Much as this sort of behaviour is difficult to condone, it’s not hard to see why black cabbies are so angry. Regulations and licensing laws for black taxis in our towns and cities are strict, so it must be incredibly frustrating to see rivals on the roads, which seemingly don’t have to abide by the same rules. Another thing which has got black cabbies riled-up is a new smartphone app which calculates how much your taxi journey should cost.

Uber efficient?

Car service Uber uses the app to works out the journey distance and time. This information is then transferred to remote computer services to calculate the fee. Uber is a “pick up” service which puts people needing a lift in touch with a private driver who has been background-checked. The service then takes a proportion of the driver’s fee for the trip, usually around 20%. The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), the trade body for black cabbies, is furious about the app, claiming that it is the same as a taximeter, which private vehicles are not permitted to use.

Hire authority

Transport for London (TfL), however, maintains that Uber isn’t breaking the law, but has asked the High Court for a final ruling on the issue, so that the matter can be resolved once and for all. TfL claims Uber’s equipment can be used legally because there isn’t any physical connection between the vehicle and the device, as there is with black cab taximeters.

Italian job

It’s not just here that licensed tax drivers are angry about new car services on the streets. In Milan, taxi drivers are striking due to what they call “unfair competition” from Uber, while in Paris, the government has said it is thinking about banning Uber drivers from using GPS-enabled apps. London black cabbies here, meanwhile, plan to show their displeasure at a ‘go-slow’ protest on June 11, which is likely to see roads gridlocked in the capital. Uber is also causing ructions among cab drivers in Manchester, but it’s going ahead with plans to operate in other conurbations.

Supply and demand

It’s a tough one – no-one wants to see black cab drivers forced out of business. But, by the same token, it can often be very difficult to find one, particularly after the pubs and clubs close and there are hundreds of people battling for only a few cabs. Many people don’t want to use private cars due to safety concerns, but services such as Uber relieve this worry because they let customers see the name and photo of the driver before they arrive, and because of the aforementioned background checks. The service also has benefits for the drivers it employs. They can choose their working hours, as well as the areas where they want to work.

Google search engine

But even Uber’s drivers long-term employment future could be threatened after the chief executive Travis Kalanick announced in California that they could ultimately be replace by self-drive vehicles. Google is one of Uber’s investors and has been working on developing driverless cars for several years’ now. Whatever happens in the future, it seems pretty certain that the days when a black cab was your only option for getting round a big city other than the bus or maybe the Underground will soon be long gone.

Capital moves

From a personal perspective as a frequent visitor to the capital, I think more taxis on London’s streets, whether black or private hire cars, can only be a good thing, and will help prevent people putting their lives at risk by jumping into cars driven by complete strangers looking to make a quick buck. But then I’m not a black cabbie whose income is under threat from new competitors.

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