London’s taxis are planning a 10,000-cab protest next month, as professional drivers across Europe demonstrate growing opposition to Uber Technologies Inc.’s app.
The drivers will meet at a yet-to-be-named London landmark in early June, said Steve McNamara, the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association’s general secretary. Uber’s drivers are allowed to carry passengers without following the same rules as other services, giving them an unfair advantage, he said.
The controversial app, which helps private drivers and professionals charge for rides, has met with protests in several markets from the taxi industry, whose drivers often pay steep fees for licenses and permits and complain that San Francisco-based Uber’s cars are given an unfair advantage.
“All we’re saying is if you want to come to London and operate the business model you’re operating, you should operate within our laws,” McNamara said in an interview. “This is about a good old British sense of fair play. It’s not cricket.”
Uber said it holds the necessary license for private hire cars in London and adheres to all of Transport for London’s regulations. A TfL spokesman said yesterday that while it’s investigating Uber’s operating model, “we have seen no evidence to suggest” that Uber isn’t fit to hold a license.
Uber markets itself as a way for drivers to start their own businesses, showing profiles of top drivers on its website who include a student who used the app to make money on weekends, a single mother who started her own business and a man who quit his job to drive passengers around San Francisco. That means it can draw drivers from outside of the professional chauffeuring industry who may hold different licenses or qualifications. That’s a key difference from similar apps like Hailo, which recruit taxi drivers.
Cars in Brussels that use the app will be subject to a 10,000-euro ($13,863) fine after a local court ruled against Uber cars last month. European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes called the ban “crazy” and anti-competitive.
In Berlin, the taxi association said that Uber hurt competition by violating rules that force limousine drivers to return to a base after delivering customers. In April, a court banned taxi services that use the app, though the injunction wasn’t enforced at the time.
French President Francois Hollande attempted to impose a 15-minute pickup delay on Uber and other private car services, which was struck down in February by the constitutional court. Parisian drivers blocked traffic from airports that month to protest private car services like Uber, which aren’t required to purchase a taxi permit that costs more than 200,000 euros.
“For me to persuade 10,000 guys to take a day off work shows you the strength of feeling,” said McNamara, whose organization represents almost half of London’s 24,000 cabbies who drive the city’s black taxis. “They’re not a commercial threat to us. It’s a sense of fair play.”
Specifically, McNamara said that private hire vehicles, such as Uber’s cars, aren’t allowed to have meters because they’re pre-booked and can quote a fare in advance. The rule is meant to prevent companies from charging different amounts or surprising a passenger with an unexpected charge, he said. Uber’s app includes a meter-like function.
Uber drivers also don’t always have an operators’ license, which means that they aren’t supposed to take customers’ bookings themselves, McNamara said.
“Uber is pro rider and pro driver -- we are all about keeping London moving with our innovative app at great prices,” an Uber spokeswoman said.
The company is also running into criticism at home. Such apps are “encouraging non-professional drivers to use their personal vehicles to drive passengers for a profit, a risk which personal automobile insurance simply does not cover,” Commissioner Dave Jones of the California Department of Insurance said in a statement last month.
Uber said it already provides a $1 million commercial policy during trips and $1 million of coverage for uninsured and underinsured motorists.
The company was valued at $3.5 billion in a funding round last year after raising cash from Google Inc.’s venture-capital arm and private-equity firm TPG Capital.