Drivers for London’s black cabs will soon be able to offer rides on Uber, the ride-hailing platform announced on Wednesday, in the latest attempt to heal a contentious rift between the company and the city’s signature taxi service.
The service is set to be offered in early 2024 and will allow black cabs to see a destination up front and book passengers through the Uber app. But will cabbies sign up?
The two have been adversaries since the app’s arrival in London more than a decade ago, which rocked the taxi trade. London’s black cabs, also known as hackney carriages, have traversed the capital in one form or another since 1634, and cabbies must pass “the Knowledge,” known as the world’s toughest taxi exam, to earn their badges.
Uber, on the other hand, has a lower barrier to entry for its drivers and has consistently considered London to be one of its most lucrative markets. In recent years, the app expanded to allow the city’s users to book train rides, boat rides and even flights to other cities.
The ride-hailing company framed the announcement as a partnership, sweetening the deal for new drivers by nixing the percentage of their fare that goes to Uber for the first six months. The first drivers, it said, had already begun signing up. Uber said it needed several hundred drivers to sign up in order to launch the service.
But many London cabdrivers had a scathing response.
“We don’t need a partnership with Uber,” said the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, a union that represents a majority of the city’s nearly 18,000 cab drivers, in the headline of a release on Wednesday.
There was “no demand” for such a partnership from taxi drivers, the union’s general secretary, Steve McNamara, said in statement, adding that their members were unlikely to even consider joining the platform.
“We have no interest in sullying the name of London’s iconic, world-renowned black cab trade by aligning it with Uber, it’s poor safety record and everything else that comes with it.”
“It’s a big step down for us and demeaning to professional taxi drivers,” said Howard Taylor, who has worked as a London cab driver for 36 years. He said he had worked too hard to be associated with the company, which he believed offered substandard service. “If they were offering double the meter and no commission, I still wouldn’t sign up with them.”
“Unless you get a certain number of drivers, you can’t really offer the service,” a spokeswoman for the union said, adding that the union was skeptical that Uber would find “critical mass.”
The company said on Wednesday, the first day that drivers could sign up, that it was “incredibly happy” with its progress.
The backlash represented the latest round of tensions between the San Francisco company and local taxi industries, a fight that has played out in several countries since the company’s rapid international expansion.
After Uber’s arrival in London, thousands of black cab drivers protested by gridlocking the streets in 2014. The company tried to recruit black cabs to its platform that year, the trade union said, but added that only a handful of drivers joined.
Uber has long battled with local officials to keep operating in Britain’s capital. In a major blow in 2019, the city’s transport authority declined to renew its license after it said the company had breached rules that had put the safety of passengers at risk. That decision was overturned in court the next year, and Uber, which had been allowed to operate during the appeal, had its license restored.
Taxi drivers in other cities such as New York, Rome and Paris already use Uber to book services, the company said in its announcement.
“We know that black cab adoption won’t happen overnight. However, the reality is that taxi drivers throughout the world want to partner with us,” Uber said in response to a request for more information.
But London’s taxi trade union said that black cabs were also available to book on other apps and that drivers did not need another platform.