London has only recently been thrown into the frenzy of a new craze: Uber. Uber is an application for the platforms of iPhones and Androids, allowing people to get a taxi from the surrounding area in minutes. Usually described as ‘reliable’ and ‘affordable’, it seems Uber is now the most common way of travelling around London.
Uber is a privately owned American company, who were established in March 2009. They have many large investors, such as Goldman Sachs, and Google Ventures, who alone invested $258 million in 2013. The company has been established in a vast amount of countries, and claims that ‘by seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers’. It seems to be working, as a huge amount of students and workers in London use the application more and more. There is also the promise of ‘free £10 credit’ for the person who joins Uber and the person who recommends Uber to others.
So who is missing in this puzzle? It seems the longer Uber has been running, the more London has been forgetting something that has been at its roots for years: the Hackney Carriage. There has been outrage amongst all black cab drivers in London over Uber, resulting in the disruption in London on the 11th of June, 2014. The taxi trade demonstration, in which hundreds of black cabs joined forces to create a huge traffic problem on the streets of London. Since then, the taxis of London have declared war on Uber, claiming that ‘Boris [Johnson] is totally failing London’.
One of the main controversies of Uber is the reliance on satellite navigation systems, allowing anyone to become a driver for Uber, so long as they can insert an address onto a small screen. For black cab drivers, this is infuriating, due to the three years (approximately) they had spent doing ‘the Knowledge’, a compulsory in-depth study of the streets and landmarks in London. This course is extremely heavy, and normally requires the driver to be unemployed to have enough time to study, meaning that the Knowledge can be a serious financial burden. The drivers of black cabs have normally sacrificed something to get where they are today. It also means that when you get into a black cab, you can trust that the driver has a passion for the streets of London (and can probably tell you a lot of cultural and historical information).
Uber’s use of sat-nav, as mentioned before, does indeed mean anyone can drive an Uber taxi. There is a link on the website on how to join, and people are frequently picked up by university students using Uber to earn enough money to allow them to have some free time. Perhaps this is a good thing, more jobs may have been created by Uber. It is also disastrous. There are constant reports of sexual assault from Uber drivers, from rape to asking a customer for oral sex in return for ‘£20 credit’. Although it seems the safety checks on Uber drivers in the US are strict, the same cannot be said for all over the world. So far, Uber has been banned in Spain, Thailand, Dehli, Netherlands and Germany.
One would think that this information is worrying enough, however Uber are still gaining more customers each day. It seems this can be pinned down to the false idea of Uber being ‘affordable’.
It may seem at some points that Uber is in fact cheaper than a black cab, however, later in the evenings (the most popular time for people to hail cabs), there is an ‘Uber price surge’. This means that the normal fare can be raised to two, even three times the normal rate. Some people may think this is obligatory for a taxi hire service, but for the black cabs, one of the three rules at the foundations of working out the fares for black cabs, is ‘maintaining reasonable differentials between the day, evening/weekend and late night tariffs’. This means that the black cabs simply cannot charge the high rates that Uber can.
Perhaps the main worry in this whole story is the disappearance of the black cab. In a time when people are already worrying about ‘the loss of British culture’, why is it that Boris Johnson and the government are allowing this London icon to slip through their hands? Earlier it was mentioned that Uber is funded by Goldman Sachs and Google, and this is where the taxi drivers believe the problem to lie. Boris has lost a ‘bulldog spirit’, according to them, by sitting idly and allowing the large American enterprises once again to get their way. It is essential that London does not forget what a critical part the Hackney Carriage has played in its history, and how much London owes to the black cabs and the drivers who dedicate their time and passion to the job. If you truly love London, think twice next time you hail an Uber.