London Plans Curbs on Uber With Driver Tests, Pickup Limits

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  • Transport regulator wants language, navigation tests
  • Taxi-app firm says proposals would hide location of cars

A user scans for an available vehicle using the Uber Technologies Inc.'s app in London.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Uber Technologies Inc. faces curbs on its expansion in the U.K. after London Mayor Boris Johnson’s transport regulator proposed that drivers of private-hire minicabs should face English-language and navigational tests, stricter insurance requirements and limits on bookings.

The recommendations are part of a consultation on minicab regulation starting Wednesday and running for 12 weeks, Transport for London said in an e-mailed statement. “No final decisions have been made and we’re keen to hear a range of views,” TfL Chief Operating Officer Garrett Emmerson said in the release.

Uber, whose phone application-based booking system has changed the face of taxi travel, said the proposals include a mandatory five-minute wait time even if a car is round the corner, with the app no longer displaying the locations of the nearest vehicles. The U.S. company, which set up in London three years ago, sent an e-mail to users asking them to sign a petition against the plans.

“If adopted, they will mean an end to the Uber you know and love,” it said. “TfL needs to hear from you: riders should come first.” The company said the proposals also envisage restrictions on services not yet available in London, including the UberPool option that allows people to share a vehicle.

‘Massive Increase’

The mayor said in May that action was needed to combat “the threat posed by the massive increase we are seeing in the number of private-hire vehicles,” adding that while London had 25,000 black cabs and 8,000 buses, there were “already over 75,000 minicabs and rising.” Uber said at the time that it had 15,000 cars in the U.K. capital.

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.

Safety Concern

Sadiq Khan, the Labour party candidate to succeed Johnson as mayor, welcomed the TfL recommendations, saying in a statement that some car firms “don’t have the level of checks needed to ensure Londoners’ safety.” The changes should also create a level playing field between cab operators and help protect the city’s “historic taxi trade,” he said.

The plans for tougher regulation of minicabs are based on an initial public consultation that ended in June and attracted almost 4,000 responses, TfL said.

A trial involving the head of Uber’s French operations and its general manager for Western Europe separately began in Paris today. The men face charges of fraudulent commercial practices, encouraging illegal activity and improper use of personal data. The hearing was postponed to allow analysis and sharing of computer records seized by police.

That’s after Uber’s offices in Amsterdam were raided for the third time this year Tuesday as part of a criminal probe. Dutch authorities say the company’s UberPop service, which is meant to allow a driver and non-driver headed in the same direction to share a car and hence costs without anyone making a profit, amounts to a front for illegal taxi operations. UberPop has already been banned in France, Germany and Belgium.

UberPool uses the standard paid-for Uber service but with two strangers picked up independently sharing the ride.