Like Luddites setting fire to cotton mills, 10,000 London cabbies (just under half of the capital’s total) will today hold a protest against Uber, the revolutionary taxi app, by causing ‘gridlock’ in the streets of the capital. As any tube driver will tell you, if there’s one way to get the general public onside, it’s to cause travel chaos...
Cabbies’ beef is, essentially, that the app works like a taxi meter, using passengers’ smartphones’ GPS trackers to work out the price of a fare, rather than minicab-style pre-determined fares. Cabbies reckon it’s illegal for a private hire firm to use a meter - but passengers have taken to the app with enthusiasm.
As protests go, this one’s hardly the beginning of a revolution. It starts at 2pm, has to be over by 3pm, and is limited to a few streets in the capital. Anyone with a satnav (or, we suppose, who’s passed The Knowledge) should be able to navigate their way around it pretty easily. The chief irritation will be from people who are unable to hail a cab because they’re all too busy causing gridlock. Seems like a good time to download Uber…
Admittedly, black cabs are up there with Tower Bridge and the Beefeater when it comes to iconic London sights - but so were horses and carriages once. There are many reasons Uber will win this fight, but here are the three most important.
1. It’s progress
The cab industry is a classic example of a protected market which has been ripe for disruption for years: while plane travel has been updated with low-cost airlines and even train journeys are easier to book, taxi services have all but ignored the digital revolution, with the same dodgy backstreet minicab offices and grumpy black cab drivers pronouncing they ‘don’t go south of the river’.
Hailo was one of the first apps to take the taxi industry by storm. It was welcomed by the sector because it helped cabbies to find fares. But even it has incurred cab drivers’ wrath, after it tried to bring minicabs into the fold.
2. It’s cheaper
Black cabs work to three tariffs, depending on the day and time you get the cab. Uber works to a ‘dynamic’ pricing model, which essentially means it uses an algorithm to work out when there will be most demand, and prices its rides accordingly. It’s called ‘surge’ pricing, and it exists because, back in 2012, the Uber team in Boston noticed drivers were clocking off just before 1am on a Friday - ie. just before people wanted to go home. To change that, it introduced the surge model, giving drivers an incentive to stay on. But prices only rise when demand outstrips supply, unlike with black cabs, where their pricing rises during pre-ordained times.
3. It’s all terribly polite
Uber operates a rating model - the passenger rates their driver, and vice versa. Get a low rating more than three times, and you’ll find drivers are unwilling to pick you up. It makes the whole affair politer: passengers don’t take cabs for granted, and drivers are chatty and make sure their cars are clean and well-maintained. No more dodgy minicabs with stuffing coming out of the seats; no more surly black cab drivers. It’s how cabs should be.