Many London cabbies think of Uber as a threat to their livelihood and professional reputation, nimbly side-stepping legislation and driver qualifications like the "Knowledge." Uber wants the pair to coexist, going so far as to launch an UberTAXI option in its app to help cabbies find new passengers. Today, it's going a step further by waiving the fee it would normally take for each Uber-sourced passenger. Well, at least for the first 12 months anyway. The company normally takes a 5 percent cut, which is already half of what its cab-friendly rival Hailo demands in the city.
"For Londoners it means they can order a traditional black cab at the push of a button and pay electronically through their phone, rather than worrying about cash," Jo Bertram, Uber's regional general manager for the UK said. "For taxi drivers it's a chance to get a fare when there are no passengers on the street or they're waiting in a long queue at a rank."
Some taxi drivers aren't impressed, however. Steve McNamara, general secretary for the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) said:
"With over 15,000 cabbies registered with specific taxi-hailing apps like Gett and Hailo, we would be amazed if any drivers decide to take up Uber's offer. Licensed taxis in London offer the best service in the world and as a membership group the LTDA doesn't like the way Uber treats its drivers and customers or its dodgy tax arrangements."
Of course, there could be taxi drivers that think differently. If they're keeping every penny from a passenger's fare -- for the next 12 months, anyway -- Uber's app could be a useful backup for when business is a little slow. Instead, the decision to use the app will probably be a matter of principle. Uber represents the competition and supporting the company in any way will ultimately support their strategy. If drivers embrace UberTAXI, it'll encourage people to use the app to call their next ride, rather than dialling a phone number or hailing a cab on the street. That could force drivers into using the app -- if that's where the passengers are, that's where you've got to be -- and paying Uber's regular fees in the future.
Furthermore, if the Uber app is their go-to, Londoners will be more likely to consider the service's other transport options -- especially those that are cheaper. So while this deal might benefit cabbies in the short-term, its long-term ramifications are still unclear. In short, taxi drivers will have to think carefully about whether Uber is their friend or enemy here.