Uber Challenged as Boris Johnson Plans London Minicab Curbs

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London Mayor Boris Johnson wants to cap the number of private-hire minicabs in the city, after his office said their ranks are increasing by 10,000 a year as the Uber Technologies Inc. taxi app gains popularity.

The San Francisco-based company started up in London three years ago and now has 15,000 cars operating there, according to the company. The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association -- the body representing traditional black-cabbies -- says 1,200 new Uber drivers are starting up in London every month, although that figure is disputed by the company.

“We must be able to take action against the threat posed by the massive increase we are seeing in the number of private-hire vehicles,” Johnson said in a statement on Friday, without referring directly to Uber. “There are only 25,000 black cabs and 8,000 buses in London and yet there are already over 75,000 minicabs and rising.”

While London was home to large numbers of private-hire vehicles competing with black cabs before Uber’s arrival, the app’s popularity is pushing the figure ever higher. Black-taxi drivers, who have to pass a grueling test to get a license, have complained that Uber threatens their livelihoods and is lowering service quality.

Uber’s drivers counter that they provide a cheaper service, and that all cars accept credit card payment and can be ordered to people’s homes.

Johnson’s office estimated that at current growth rates, there could be more than 100,000 private minicabs crowding London’s streets within two years.

The mayor, who has just become a member of the U.K. parliament and is seen by many as a future candidate for prime minister, said he would be seeking new legal powers to let the London transit authority cap private-hire vehicle numbers.

Data obtained by Bloomberg from the authority show black-taxi license applications, including new licenses and renewals, are down 20 percent so far this year. Black-cabbies say Uber is the cause of the decline.

(Adds Uber details from second paragraph.)
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