Blog: Chris WrightCab-hailing apps irk licensed drivers

Chris Wright | 27 August 2015

Paris taxi drivers are also unhappy with Uber with their protests going further by setting fire to minicabs they believe are taking away their business

Paris taxi drivers are also unhappy with Uber with their protests going further by setting fire to minicabs they believe are taking away their business

The dramatic growth in cab-hailing apps in general and Uber in particular has got ‘official’ taxi drivers hot under the collar. According to figures out this week from the UK’s Department of Transport (DfT), the number of private hire vehicles on London's roads has surged by 26% over the past two years.

In fact the arrival of Uber, and others, has kick-started a stagnating minicab sector which was actually declining until two years ago. There are now 62,754 private hire vehicles in London, up from 49,854 in 2013, according to the DfT. However, the number of minicab companies has fallen 5% to 3,000 over the same two-year period – Single owner-operators are taking advantage.

Uber said it has more than 15,000 drivers in London, and expects this to rise to 42,000 next year. The cab-hailing app launched in the city in 2012 and has since rolled out to seven other UK locations including Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.

According to the DfT, the total number of licensed taxi and private hire vehicles across England rose 9% over the past two years to 242,000, its highest level since these records began in 2005 but the number of traditional black taxis in London grew just 1.5% in the past two years, with 22,500 Hackney Carriages in the capital – 58 fewer than there were in 2011, before the London launch of Uber.

Last summer black cab drivers went on strike against Transport for London's (TfL) regulation of Uber, or rather non-regulation as they see it. However, there is no mechanism for turning down a licence for a minicab provided it, and the driver, meets all legal requirements.

Paris taxi drivers are also unhappy with Uber with their protests going further by setting fire to minicabs they believe are taking away their business. The cab-hailing app has been banned from operating in several cities around the world while, back in the UK, Uber is also facing legal action over allegations that it mistreats its drivers by failing to ensure they earn minimum wage or take adequate holiday.

Uber has been banned or partially banned in cities in India, the US, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and South Africa where it is believed the company’s practices ride roughshod over the rule of law.

The Constitutional Court in France is due to rule on the legality of Uber’s operations next month after ministers raised concerns about UberPOP, a discount version of the existing app that allows anyone to become a private driver, without any training, and charge for ‘ride shares’ with members of the public.

Licensed French taxi drivers say they have to spend EUR240,000 (US$185,000) to get a licence while Uber drivers, and especially UberPOP drivers, can start working with little or no expense. Since UberPOP launched in France, revenues for licensed cabbies have fallen by more than 30%.

But, do cabbies only have themselves to blame? ‘Official’ licenced taxi drivers the world over have had a free run for decades while trying to get a cab in many major cities became more difficult and fares went through the roof. A Paris cab driver a couple of years ago was demanding nearly EUR100 from me for a trip across the city – I took a EUR1.50 metro ride.

The problem for cab drivers is that this is a consumer-led business. If you can do it cheaper, better, quicker then it’s a no-brainer for the customer. Whatever legal routes they want to follow, traditional cabs cannot stand in the way of technological progress.

Had they actually embraced the Uber model in the first place, they may not now be having this argument.

Sectors: Vehicle markets


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