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Uber courts London’s black-cab drivers in push to expand services


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Uber is courting one of its oldest foes, the London black-cab driver, as it looks to add a new taxi option to its fleet in the UK capital next year.

San Francisco-based Uber has begun inviting London black-cab drivers to register for its planned new service, despite continued opposition to the ride-hailing company from the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, which represents about two-thirds of London’s 15,000 cabbies.

The company made a similar effort to win over London black-cab drivers in 2016 but the option to hail “hackney carriages” was discontinued in 2017 after the number of active drivers plateaued in the low hundreds. Uber said that if it could secure “several hundred” cab drivers this time, it planned to launch the feature early in 2024.

But the LTDA said on Wednesday: “We have no interest in sullying the name of London’s iconic, world-renowned black cab trade by aligning it with Uber, its poor safety record and everything else that comes with it.”

Traditional taxis, once considered Uber’s arch nemesis, are now a familiar feature on its app in 33 countries, with Paris the most recent addition last month. It says that more than 10 per cent of Uber trips are completed by taxi drivers in Europe and the Middle East, delivering more than $1bn in earnings this year. Adding taxis has allowed Uber to expand in markets such as Spain and Germany that place severe limits on private hire operators.

“I firmly believe that Uber and taxis are better together,” said Andrew Macdonald, Uber’s senior vice-president of mobility and business operations. “We continue to see that when Uber and taxis partner, it’s a win for drivers, riders and the cities we both serve. We look forward to giving every taxi driver in the world access to Uber trips while continuing to earn the trust of our taxi partners globally.”

Uber added thousands of New York City’s yellow taxis last year via a partnership with two local companies, Curb and CMT, despite ongoing opposition from some drivers’ associations there.

However, London — one of Uber’s largest markets with millions of regular customers — has been a holdout ever since black-cab drivers blockaded the city’s streets in 2014 to protest against what the LTDA argued was a lack of proper regulation for app-based operators.

“[We] don’t believe our members will even consider joining the app, given its well-documented, poor record on everything from passenger safety to workers’ rights in London,” said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the LTDA. “There is no demand for this partnership from the London licensed taxi drivers we represent or our passengers.”

Uber has had a chequered history in London since it first launched there in 2012. It was denied a licence by Transport for London, the operating authority, in September 2017 and again in November 2019, after the agency said it was not a “fit and proper” operator. Uber successfully challenged those decisions in court. TfL granted Uber a new 30-month licence in February 2022.

The rise of mobile ride-hailing services such as Uber has upended the traditional taxi industry over the past decade, despite apps such as Bolt and FreeNow that already feature black cabs in London.

Data from the UK’s Department for Transport shows that licensed taxi vehicle numbers have fallen since 2015, with a particularly sharp drop during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, from which London cabs have made only a small recovery. Meanwhile, the number of private hire vehicles in England hit new highs this year.

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