Uber: Banned to Save ‘Black Cab’ Cartel 


Uber: Banned to Save ‘Black Cab’ Cartel 

Andre Walker highlights how Transport for London’s assault on Uber is merely one part of a global struggle against a bold challenger seeking to deliver innovation to a sector, dominated by cartels, that has seen none for nearly half a century. We must not allow them to win. Click here to sign the petition and fight this injustice.

London black cab drivers are often described as ‘the best in the world’ that is because they spend an average of 34 months learning the trade (aka doing The Knowledge) before they ever get into a taxi. Believe it or not, they know 25 thousand routes and 20 thousand places of interest, an extraordinary feat, and one rendered almost totally pointless by satellite navigation.

Almost totally pointless, but not entirely.

The Knowledge is one of the ways the black cab industry in London has been able to restrict entry to the taxi market since 1864. The aim is to ensure fewer cabs so each driver can pick and choose what work he wants, whilst demanding top dollar for the job.

Since the Victorian era, the number of black cabs has grown, but not nearly as much as people using loopholes to provide ‘private hire’ car services to fill the gap between the demand of customers and the very limited supply of black cabs.

And so, the battle moved on to inhibiting ‘private hire’ vehicles as much as possible. One of the ways the black cabs did this was by preventing customers from hailing them on the street. This ensured there were nowhere near enough vehicles to take people home from London’s West End on a Saturday night, in doing so it once again maintained high prices for black cabs.

Everyone was happy, well actually almost no-one was happy aside from black cab drivers. The cost to London of having their cartel was transport chaos, stranded drunk people and exorbitant prices for anyone lucky enough to find a black cab.

The first solution was rickshaws, those bizarre little pedal taxis popular in the third world. They were able to get around the restrictions black cabs insisted on. That said most sane people recognized how dangerous they were and avoided them.

Second, there was Uber. The service that enabled ordinary people to get access to a prompt taxi service at a reasonable price. You could ‘hail’ the car virtually via an app on your phone, and they billed you directly, so no need for cash.

Suddenly the cartel was smashed to bits. No-longer could black cabs afford to refuse customers who live in areas they didn’t like driving to. Also, the chaos in the West End evaporated, as the number of vehicles available to passengers soared.

They soared so much that as of today 40 thousand people drive through the Uber app in London. But perhaps not for much longer: Transport for London (backed by Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan) has announced they will not renew Uber’s license to operate in the capital.

Black Cabs are whooping for joy. Suddenly 3.5 million passenger who use Uber will be back searching the streets once more. They do not propose to increase their fleet or bring in new drivers. No, it’s simply back to the ‘good’ old days.

Uber is not blameless in all this. Its vetting is sub-standard and it has refused to engage with the regulator. There are also increases in sexual assaults by drivers, though how many were prevented by young people being able to get into a car at all is a statistic we may never know.

But this debate is about open markets, and how the black cabs have made exploiting its monopoly, rather than innovation, its secret to success. I don’t care what happens to Uber but I do care about being able to get home. I don’t take the view that sitting around at 2am every weekend for hours is a price worth paying to keep the black cabs on £50 thousand a year.

Uber is under attack across the world; and it’s always the same story. There are always those who can (and will) profit from restricted markets, but we must not allow them to win. Click here to sign the petition and fight this injustice.


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  • Andre Walker
    Andre Walker
    Andre Walker is lobby correspondent and columnist for the New York Observer. He covers the work of the British Parliament and Prime Minister. Before joining The New York Observer he was part of the team that established Breitbart London.
    • Kevin Ronald Lohse

      Laker Airways all over again. Our Great and Good never learn.

    • Waggler

      Do any of these taxi drivers get paid the NMW while waiting for a fare?

    • Nockian

      Yep, let the customer choose between cheap/less regulated and expensive/more regulated. I also don’t care about Uber, let the customer decide if they will survive. I care even less about a cartelised taxi service using the force of the state to rip off its customers.

    • SonofBoudica

      The revelations that Uber has passed inspections by TfL and the fact that no warning was given and Uber only informed by text 5 minutes before TfL’s announcement, followed within seconds by a statement from the “neutral” Mr Khan, seems to indicate that this was an entirely political decision, timed to coincide with the opening of the Labour conference. Perhaps this is how things are done in Pakistan, but someone should remind Mr Khan that he is in Britain, and should abide by our rules of natural justice.

    • KFN

      It is nothing more than a scam, built around the disparities in regulatory adherence, employee remuneration, and tax liabilities.

      You can not have two entities offering the same product, where one is forced to comply by rules of trade that the other is not.

      The option on the table is not to go on about how mafia style undercutting is somehow representative of the future (to see how it ends, there are several books on the history of New York city’s various cab iterations from horse to electric), but whether taxi cabs in London all abide by the same regulations, insurance requirements, training, record checks, tax, etc, or remove all regulations altogether…

      • Nockian

        Get rid of all the regulations and abide by law to prosecute bad actors. That way it is a level playing field and competition will determine which businesses survive and which don’t. Simples.

    • Eccles

      Black cab drivers make £50,000 a year? Evidence? I don’t know all the reasons behind this ban, I too suspect that the safety “concerns” are an excuse, but UBER are now happy to begin negotiating and we must do something to help the drivers.

      I hope some of the drivers take this opportunity to get together and start a cooperative service of their own equivalent to UBER in which they get a fair share of the profits.

      Of course the rightwing will whine about this. They have proven time and again their own convenience is placed above the rights of others to a fair wage and working conditions…

      • Nockian

        Why must we ‘do something’ to help the drivers ? Fair wage by what standard ? Drivers choose to work, not for Uber, but for themselves, Uber just offers a service that allows drivers to earn and work without the necessity of advertising and fair collection. The service comes at a cost to the driver, but that driver has no way of running a taxi business without Uber or they would choose that option.

    • Jumbo

      £50k? No! an FoI told me black cab drivers don’t pay tax because they all earn below the threshold for paying tax (£11,500 this year). I do wonder how many will pay tax now they have to accept cards…

      • SonofBoudica

        Yes, I’m sure they all earn less than £11,500. And I’m sure that the cabs are powered by little pigs trotting along inside the bonnet.

      • ethanedwards2002

        Tax is a voluntary thing isn’t it? Unless you happen to be on PAYE. We keep the country afloat my friend.

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