I love being a London cabbie. I trained hard for three years, and I am incredibly proud to be part of an industry that is regarded as the best taxi service in the world. But I didn't do the Knowledge to have my reputation ruined by nothing more than a Sat Nav operator.
Companies like Uber appear to be trying to be taxis by the back door, and TFL are allowing this to happen. This morning I read that Uber will graciously allow London’s finest taxi drivers to share their app. Well, this cabby says ‘No thanks’.
Uber is a dispatch system for private hire drivers, delivered through an app on a mobile device. This type of system has always been in place, except the dispatching of the pick-up location used to be done by a voice on the end of a two-way radio. So really, nothing has changed in that regard.
Uber drivers are also, on the whole, probably no more or less competent than taxi or minicab drivers are. They perhaps wear nicer clothes, and drive nicer cars than the rest of us, but essentially you're getting the same standard of driver as you’ve always had.
But the way Uber has changed things is with their pricing structure. They've introduced surge pricing for busy times, so if a driver is likely to take a long time to get a passenger to a destination, then the price is higher. Similarly, when there is a transport strike, or even when it’s raining, the price is higher.
What us London cabbies have a problem with is that this pricing structure is governed by a metering system designed to calculate the fare by distance using GPS. This is subject to a legal challenge. It’s very clear that no private hire cars are allowed to have meters. They are only allowed in licensed London taxis.
Sadly TFL presumably are happy to ignore this little detail, and are allowing Uber to carry on with their business using these devices.
We are also concerned that this will confuse the public, who will think that they have ordered a professional driver who knows exactly where he's going, and instead may get someone who has only been driving his car for a couple of weeks, has had no formal training, and is simply following instructions from a Sat Nav. Uber reportedly insist "every driver meets all local regulations", having been subjected to insurance and general background checks.
It’s a ridiculous situation all round, and is exactly why I stopped using Hailo. Hailo is a company which used the reputation of the black cab driver to get its business started and grow with great success, by stating from the start that it was only for black cabs. But as soon as they reached critical mass, they wanted mini cabs to do their work too.
Today's demo is to highlight the dissatisfaction with TFL metering of private hire. They're ignoring it. For what reason? Who knows.