Up to 12,000 black-cab drivers (cabbies) are expected to fill the streets of London today, in protest against Transport for London (TfL) and technology-enabled services such as Uber. Their gripe? Uber allows its users to beckon a cab with their mobile phone, and the associated fare is worked out using a mobile phone and GPS. The crux of the issue here is that cabbies are comparing this to a taximeter, which legally only black cabs are allowed to use in the capital.
So, what does Uber do to appease the situation? It launches UberTaxi, of course, its fourth service in the bustling British conurbation.
Unlike its uberX, EXEC and LUX cars, UberTaxi is open for London’s black-taxi drivers to use, similar to Hailo. The timing of this move, of course, almost certainly isn’t a coincidence given today’s public protests. But how many London cabbies will be willing to sign up to use Uber in light of the current debacle remains to be seen.
Ubertaxi has already gone live – though no cabs in W1 pic.twitter.com/hz7Ke3pIq8
— Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) June 11, 2014
Many London taxi drivers have also been protesting against the Hailo platform recently, in the wake of it opening up to allow private hire vehicles on its platform. So the fact that Uber already offers private hire vehicles doesn’t bode too well for this new service in the city, though it does say: “We expect initial availability to be limited due to high demand.”
UberTaxi works like other Uber services and competitors such as Hailo. It’s entirely cashless, with users paying through the app which is linked to their card, though cash payments will also likely be an option. Fares will cost the same as set out by TfL, with Uber taking a 5 percent commission.
As we reported a few weeks back, TfL, which regulates and licenses taxi and private hire vehicles in the capital, has previously backed Uber and similar services, but it’s now asking the High Court to rule on whether smartphones that use GPS technology to measure the time and distance of a journey to help establish a fare “comply with current law on ‘taximeters’”. With TfL batting the decision to the courts, Uber meanwhile is trying to stay onside with the taxi drivers by offering this new service.
“We recognise the unique heritage and value of traditional black cabs when it comes to getting around,” says Uber’s Jo Bertram. “UberTaxi is another way of using technology to offer more choice, making life simpler and keeping London moving.”
While the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association is organizing a protest and promises “severe chaos, congestion and confusion across the metropolis,” Uber’s name is being bandied about in many more circles than it was before this all kicked off. This is all great PR for Uber, and by launching its service for taxi drivers to use – off the back of a whopping $1.2 billion funding round – one can’t help but feel there will only be one winner here in the long run.
That said, it seems like the London taxi war is only getting started.