Visit London for the first time and what’s on your to do list? Big Ben or Buckingham Palace for sure. Maybe the Tower of London. And then a ride on a double decker bus or, like Paddington, a black cab.
London’s cabs are famous the world over because they are an iconic part of our city’s transport infrastructure. It’s why the impact of apps like Uber on traditional taxis have generated such a heated debate in the capital.
We believe that black cabs and Uber can coexist. There are huge numbers of people trying to get from A to B every day in London. And our peak times are when the pubs and bars close, black cabs are at their busiest and public transport is most limited. Uber also has more and more passengers who live outside central London. For these people we can serve as an important last mile link to public transport. More than one in five Uber trips in the capital start or end more than half a mile away from train or tube stations outside zones 1 and 2.
In addition, black cabs have unique advantages. For example they have the exclusive right to pick up passengers who hail a cab on the street in the capital and can use ranks at busy places like hotels, airports and train stations. Street hail is the most popular way for passengers in the wealthiest, busiest parts of town to get around. These advantages guarantee black cabs a steady flow of high-priced, high-volume trips for the foreseeable future. As even the most avid Uber users know, there are many times when a black cab is the fastest and best option because it is literally right there on the street in front of you. There is zero waiting time and you can whizz along the bus lane.
Of course competition has affected the taxi trade. But it can also lead to service improvements and a better experience for passengers over time. Last week Transport for London announced a deal to ensure that all cabs can take card payments with a lower transaction fee, which is good news for Londoners and drivers too.
The answer to the very real pressures faced by black cabs is, surely, to reduce their costs rather than limiting passenger choice by imposing bureaucratic new rules on apps. While both black cab and licensed Uber drivers go through exactly the same background checks, taxi drivers have additional hoops they have to jump through. The Knowledge, for instance, is rightly legendary. But it means memorising 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks – a skill that can take up to four years to master.
In the age of GPS and live traffic apps, is such an onerous test still needed? Could a modern version of The Knowledge that took advantage of new technology and only took a year to complete be just as effective? And when a black cab typically costs more than £40,000 to buy and thousands a year to run, shouldn’t taxi drivers be given a broader choice of cars, including green and hybrid vehicles?
We also believe that Uber can help black cabs reach new passengers so they get more custom. So from today black cab drivers will be able to use the ‘TAXI’ option on Uber’s app to connect to paying customers with zero service fee for the first twelve months. For Londoners it means they can order a traditional black cab at the push of a button and pay electronically through their phone, rather than worrying about cash. And for taxi drivers it’s a chance to get a fare when there are no passengers on the street or they’re waiting in a long queue at a rank.
Common sense regulations combined with new technology can help ensure that black cabs and apps like Uber live side by side. It’s the best of both worlds. Londoners – and tourists – would be free to choose whether they want to hail a car on the street or push a button and get a ride for generations to come.
UberEATS is our new food delivery platform, which makes ordering fantastic meals from your favourite local London restaurants as easy as requesting a ride.