Tough new rules which would force Uber and other app-based minicab firms to make significant changes to their business model have been unveiled by Transport for London.
Uber has been the subject of growing numbers of complaints from black cab driver who believe its booking and payment app breaches rules banning minicabs from using a meter to calculate fares. Those complaints grew in seriousness earlier this month when a protest by cab drivers at City Hall led to one security guard needing hospital treatment.
Under the new rules, which are subject to a consultation, passengers would have to be advised of a fixed fare at the start of their journey, effectively banning the use of apps to determine fares.
Other changes include requiring minicab drivers to show a knowledge of London’s streets, setting a minimum standard of spoken English for drivers and introducing a compulsory five-minute delay between a passenger booking their car and being picked up.
Garrett Emmerson, chief operating officer for surface transport at TfL, said the consultation would “inform and improve the regulations that govern the capital’s private hire trade.”
“In recent years the private hire industry has grown exponentially and technology has also developed rapidly.
“The consultation sets out a number of ways that standards across the industry could be raised, ensuring Londoners can continue to benefit from the service provided by licensed private hire vehicles.
“No final decisions have been made and we’re keen to hear a range of views from the trade and from Londoners too.”
TfL has previously been criticised by the London Assembly’s transport committee for being inconsistent in how it enforced existing rules. Today the committee’s chair, Val Shawcross AM, welcomed the new consultation and praised the organisation “for finally showing some teeth on this issue.”
She added: “This can only be good news for the people who earn their living by driving Londoners safely around our city. TfL has stepped up and we’re very glad to see it.”
Today’s announcement has also been welcomed by Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, who said he hoped the new measures would “help protect Londoners and London’s historic taxi trade.”
However Uber has dismissed the proposed new rules as “pointless” and claimed they would “do nothing to improve the service Uber and other apps provide.
A spokesperson added: “They’re designed to address the concerns of black cab drivers, who are feeling squeezed due to competition. But the answer is to reduce onerous regulations, not increase them.”
In addition to TfL’s consultation, Mayor Boris Johnson today renewed calls for the power to cap the number of minicabs operating in the capital. According to City Hall figures the average number of minicabs operating in the congestion charge zone last month was 13,151 per day, up from just 448 in September 2012.
Mr Johnson, said: “Londoners have embraced new technology and rightly so, but we can’t continue to have more than 13,000 private hire drivers in central London and growing given the congestion that results.
“That is why TfL is running a wider consultation to hear views on the regulations governing the trade and why I continue to push for legislation from Government to enable us to stamp out illegal practices and cap the number of private hire vehicles.”
The consultation will run for 12 weeks and closes on 23 December 2015.