Uber: why London cabbies hate the taxi app
Black-cab drivers stage mass demonstration to protest against Uber's mobile-based car service
London's black-cab drivers have brought parts of the city to a standstill today with a mass protest against the car service Uber, which allows people to hail a cab and agree a fare using their phone.
The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) says its protest is directed not at Uber, but at Transport for London, which it claims is failing to hold the mobile-based car service to the proper regulations.
"Transport for London not enforcing the Private Hire Vehicles Act is dangerous for Londoners," Steve McNamara, LTDA's general secretary, told the BBC before the protest got underway. "I anticipate that the demonstration against TfL's handling of Uber will attract many, many thousands of cabs and cause severe chaos, congestion and confusion across the metropolis".
So what is Uber and why all the fuss? Here's why the car service has got London cabbies hot under the collar.
What is Uber?
Uber is an app that "connects drivers with passengers at the touch of a button". The app is free to download and, when accessed, shows all the Uber-accredited cars in a user's vicinity. To hail one, users just tap on a car that is close by, jump in, and at the end of the ride their card is debited automatically. Rates are considerably lower than in a black cab – unless you order a luxury car – and are calculated according to how far a passenger travels and how long his or her journey takes.
Sounds useful. What is the problem?
British cab drivers argue that Uber is operating as a taxi company and should be subject to the appropriate regulations, and that the cars available through Uber should also be classed as taxis rather than minicabs.
Uber, meanwhile, insists that it is "not a transportation carrier". But black cab drivers disagree, noting that unlike licensed mini cabs, which have to quote on a price up-front rather than using a meter, Uber operates like a conventional taxi company by calculating fares based on time and distance, with a user's smartphone acting as the meter.
What is the official response?
In TfL's view, using smartphones to record fares may differ sufficiently from conventional metered travel. Such devices, they say, "do not constitute the equipping of a vehicle with a taxi meter".
"This distinction is important," The Guardian notes, "because it helps Uber keep away from laws that govern licensed taxis".
Should Uber be regulated?
Uber has expanded rapidly and now operates in 32 countries around the world. The California-based start-up has already been hit with legal action, protests and bans of various kinds in Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Houston, Portland, New Orleans, Seattle, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC, Vancouver and Toronto, the Guardian reports.
Transport for London says that it has investigated Uber's business model and determined that it believes the company complies with all applicable rules. However, it has referred the case to the High Court and asked it to deliver a binding ruling, the BBC reports. Meanwhile, publicity generated by the cab drivers' protest may well have backfired: Uber says it has seen an eight-fold increase in sign-ups since this time last week. ·