Since Uber landed in London back in July 2012, there has been a running battle between black cab drivers and the ride-hailing app. London’s cabbies feel under attack. Since 2015, the number of private hire vehicles (the regulatory category that Uber falls under) has soared by nearly 40%. In that same time, official taxis have dropped by around 5%.
Much of the animosity is fueled by the different regulations imposed on Uber and black cabs. Uber claims that it is platform rather than a private hire firm – they merely provide the link between passengers and drivers. The drivers themselves have to be regulated under private hire rules, but these are far less stringent that those faced by official taxi firms.
For one thing, cab drivers have to learn the entire layout of London in a gruelling training program called ‘The Knowledge’. This takes an average of 34 months to learn. On the other hand, Uber drivers and private hire vehicles are free to use sat navs and smartphones to find their way.
Black cabs also have to be fitted out so that they meet accessibility rules such as hearing aid loops and wheelchair ramps. These Hackney Carriages are custom built specifically for black cab companies, which pushes up prices for the London cabby. By comparison, Uber drivers can buy an off-the-shelf, mass-market Toyota Prius without having to make these adjustments.
The other big issue is the price. As Uber drivers are self-employed rather than official employees, they don’t have to be offered holiday or sick pay, nor do they have to be insured by the company. This brings down costs for the consumer. Where a black cab driver costs between £6 and £9.40 for a one-mile journey, Uber can cost as little as £5.
I spoke to an Uber driver, who only wanted to be identified as Grant. We talked about his experience using the taxi-hailing platform and what he thought about the industry as a whole.
Gus Carter: How long have you been an Uber driver?
Grant: I started Uber in October 2017
GC: Are you a full-time driver?
Grant: “I am what you could call full time, but depends how many hours I choose to work that given week.”
GC: How much training do you get prior to starting?
Grant: “We attend onboarding session which shows how the app works and we have access to help where required.”
GC: Have you had any issues with Uber such as temporary suspension for an unfair review?
Grant: “I have never been temp [temporarily] suspended or anything of the sort, you hear it happening to people who are supposedly innocent but I am sure it happens for a reason.”
GC: What kind of vetting process do you go through in order to receive your license?
Grant: “Our vetting process is carried out through TfL although Uber check we have held a licence for 3 years and are over 21. TfL required an enhanced background check, medical check from GP, topographical test (map reading) and English qualification. Once TfL issue our licence Uber allow us to drive on the platform.”
GC: What do you think about black cab drivers complaints about Uber?
Grant: “I understand their anger to an extent but there is nothing wrong with competition and there should be no chance of forcing passengers only having the option of black taxi. I also feel they use passenger safety as an angle to the public but that’s not their concern, their concern is how much money they take home each day and Uber are clearly reducing that.”
GC: Have you had any personal run-ins with aggressive or angry cabbies?
Grant: “I have had the odd run-in with black taxi drivers, usually their arrogance for giving right of way when needing to change lane etc. They tend to have a do what I want attitude on the road and sit on their car horn at any other motorist. But then I see bad driving from obvious Uber drivers too. So who am I to judge?”
GC: Do you know what your overall pay per hour is after tax, insurance etc?
Grant: “My hourly wage really depends on how well I do each day I work, how long I work for, how many days I work etc. But it’s far above minimum wage. People who claim to earn that are either paying too much to lease their car or are working the wrong area [or at the wrong] time and therefore not earning enough.”
The last few years have seen countless protests against this industry disruptor. Cabbies are claiming that this competition is unfair and that it’s driving London’s traditional mode of transport out of business. Only time will tell if Uber and black cabs can co-exist.