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Uber's move to include London Black cabs faced industry scepticism during London Assembly grilling

Image credit: DALL.E (AI Generated)

Uber's recent announcement about incorporating Black Cabs into its ride-hailing app has stirred a mix of scepticism and indifference among key figures in London's taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) industry. 

During a session convened by the London Assembly Transport Committee last month, aimed at dissecting the hurdles confronting black taxis and PHVs, Uber's plans also came under the spotlight.

Steve Wright MBE, Chair of the Licensed Private Hire Car Association, voiced a general resistance within the industry towards Uber's expansion into the Black Cab sector. Citing Uber's historically contentious relationship with the taxi trade, Wright highlighted the natural scepticism that such a move has generated among many self-employed drivers in both sectors.

Wright MBE said: “Well I try to avoid talking too much about the taxi industry um and leave that to my colleagues, but I think there is a resistance to that happening. Naturally Uber is a PHV entity that stated it would like to get rid of all the taxis wherever it was and replace them with driverless cars many moons ago, so they haven't endeared themselves in previous lives to people. That's not a good start point for all the many self-employed drivers in the two sectors, but really I think you know at the end of the day their business model is going to be their business model they're going to try and get into the black cab space because other apps have done that.”

Echoing Wright's sentiments, Steve McNamara, General Secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association (LTDA), cast doubt on Uber's ability to attract a substantial number of Black Cab drivers to its platform. McNamara referenced the cooperative relationships that exist between the taxi trade and other app-based platforms like Gett, contrasting these with Uber's more unilateral approach to entering the market.

McNamara said: “The reality is that to launch an app in London and Marius and Asher will give you more detail on that, you need probably a base of 3,000 drivers as a minimum in order to provide a decent coverage and I'm going to be stunned if Uber get 30 drivers let alone 3,000.

“Look, our relationship with the private hire industry has changed massively over the years. I mean I'm sitting next to Marius he runs a private hire fleet, he runs a taxi fleet, on his apps. As do bolt, as do Gett, and drivers work quite happy with those platforms.

“The issue with Uber is there's a long history of it, you don't need me to go into it. When Bolt were coming into the taxi market, they came and saw everybody in the trade. They told them what they were doing. We had various conversations with them and they launched.

“Uber in typical fashion announced it in a fan fair of media launches and balloons and bunting and gave it all as a done deal. It's very much not a done deal.

“We're (the taxi trade) doing very well at the moment. As I've said to you earlier, we're doing very well on our existing apps, interestingly, just now when we when we were talking about apps and whether they should be licensed or not there's actually three apps in London that don't also run private hire. There's Asher, who runs Sherbet, there's also one called Unify and there's one called Taxi App. They have no private hire on them at all and they're not licensed or regulated by TfL and neither should they be.

“We've got a good choice of apps and they will work very well for us. We certainly don't need Uber and I honestly just can't see it having an impact. I think there's one or two things that are going to happen, they're either not going to launch as they said they were going to launch and it'll all die a death or they'll put ghost cabs on their app so when you open the app you'll see all these cabs driving around, no this is this is how these apps work, you'll see these ghost cabs on the app and when you try and hail one you won't get one.

“So to answer you, it isn't going to happen.”

Helen Chapman, Director of Licensing, Regulation and Charging at Transport for London (TfL), emphasised that the decision to join Uber's platform rests with individual taxi drivers, indicating that the regulatory body sees this as a matter between Uber and the drivers themselves.

Chapman said: “I mean this is obviously a matter for Uber to comment on and for individual taxi drivers to decide whether that's something that they want to do or not it it's not really a matter for TfL as the regulator.”

Mariusz Zabrocki, General Manager at FREENOW, dismissed Uber's announcement as a mere PR campaign, doubting its potential to significantly impact the Black Cab market. Zabrocki's remarks reflect a broader industry sentiment that views Uber's entry into this space with a healthy dose of scepticism, bolstered by a lack of positive feedback from taxi drivers regarding the ride-hailing giant.

Zabrocki said: “I mean I can only congratulate them on another successful PR campaign I mean because that's what it is. So yeah, maybe if they recruit twenty drivers maybe they will cover one small train station. We've seen other companies trying to launch in the Black Cab space, we have never seen any negative impact on our supply and I really don't expect that that drivers are actually going to choose to drive for Uber. We saw a lot of negative feedback. I haven't met a single taxi driver that said something positive about them, so yeah, good luck to Uber.”

Since the London Assembly meeting, Uber have revealed that they are on target with London taxi driver recruitment and preparations ahead of its planned Black Cab launch this year.

An Uber spokesperson told TaxiPoint: “Our recruitment and preparations for launch are going as planned. We have been meeting drivers at roundtables and in-person events where the feedback has been very positive.”

As the debate unfolds, it remains to be seen whether Uber's foray into the Black Cab market will gather momentum or if it will be met with continued resistance from an industry wary of its intentions and business practices.


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