Hendy claims Uber is no threat to black cab trade, at Tory conference.
Transport for London’s commissioner Sir Peter Hendy tried to dismissed fears that the controversial minicab app Uber, which allows immediate hirings, threatens the future of London’s black cabs. He said cabbies' anger at the startup business is “misplaced”.
London black-cab drivers staged a ‘go slow’ protest around Trafalgar Square in July 2014 to demonstrate their opposition to the smartphone app that allows users to book and pay for "unregulated private hire vehicles". The protest was replicated in many other major European citiesin which Uber operates.
But speaking at the transport debate at the Conservative party conference this week, Hendy insisted the Silicon Valley startup would not displace London’s classic black cabs.
“There’s always likely to be a future, in the centre of one of the world’s great cities, for a taxi service that you can hail,” he said. “I don’t come out of my office and think I’m going to get onto my phone to look for a car. I look down Victoria street and I find a vacant taxi. I know the driver knows where he’s going and I know he’s licensed, because apart from anything else I licence him.”
TfL have bent over backwards to support Uber. Initially they were licensed without an adequate central London operating centre, in fact they were licensed to operated from an accountants office in More London Building next to city hall. More recently they were allowed to operate for a while from premises in North London without having a licence variation for the property.
When Taxi Leaks complained, the complaint was not investigated for eight weeks, giving Uber time to apply for and receive the correct license. TfLs staff manual says that's any private hire company found working from unlicensed premises should have their operators license revoked with immediate effect. This was not the case with Uber, who were given time to "sort things out" before compliance inspected the new building.
The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association believes Uber drivers operate illegally. The dispute not only hinges on whether an Uber driver’s smartphone qualifies as a meter – a device that currently only strictly regulated black cabs can use, but also there are no pre bookings as every job is an electronic instant hail.
Hendy, who leads TfL’s management team insisted that Uber was operating legally.
Hendy admits that he does have concerns about consumer safety within the ‘sharing economy’, in which apps such as Uber operate. Most transport-sharing apps connect citizens with drivers who are not registered by central or local government. “Some of it is akin to hitchhiking,” he said. Well he would do, as new Taxi app Maaxi intends to target his bus and tube passengers.
London’s transport commissioner also warned delegates at the conference in Birmingham that new plans for segregated cycle lanes in the capital may be toned down after criticism.
Opponents say they scheme would reduce roadspace and increase congestion. “They have engendered a fair amount of controversy, both in favour of them and against.” Hendy admitted. “There might be some compromises in the end because there’s a world of difference between cycling down a road with all other road users and a completely segregated cycle lane which takes space out of the road.”