London's black cab drivers are planning to bring “chaos, congestion and confusion” to the capital's streets as part of a protest against Silicon Valley smartphone taxi service Uber.
The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) said that Uber’s drivers are using smartphone apps to work out fares, despite it being illegal for private vehicles to be fitted with taximeters.
The LTDA complained to Transport for London (TfL) but the governing body is refusing to get involved because it says Uber’s vehicles are not “equipped” with taximeters since there is no “connection between the device and the vehicle”.
"Transport for London not enforcing the Private Hire Vehicles Act is dangerous for Londoners," Steve McNamara, LTDA's general secretary, told the BBC. "I anticipate that the demonstration against TfL's handling of Uber will attract many many thousands of cabs and cause severe chaos, congestion and confusion across the metropolis."
The San Francisco-based company, founded in 2009, describes itself as a “pick-up” service that connects passengers with vetted private drivers. Uber’s app, which has been backed by Google, Goldman Sachs and others, permits customers to order taxis through their smartphone, see who their driver will be, and track the arrival of their car.
The five-year-old firm now operates in over 100 cities across 30 countries, launching in London in 2012 and in Manchester this week.
The features of the app have been mimicked by companies like Hailo and Kabbee. However, unlike Uber, these apps connect passengers to drivers of licensed black cabs and minicabs.
On Uber, McNamara added: “This is not some philanthropic friendly society, it’s an American monster that has no qualms about breaching any and all laws in the pursuit of profit, most of which will never see a penny of tax paid in the UK.”
This is not the first backlash against the San Francisco-headquartered start-up.
The service, now integrated with Google Maps, was banned in Brussels last month, much to the disappointment of the Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, who said she was "outraged" by the decision, adding that it was "designed to protect a taxi cartel". Uber is also in a court battle in Berlin at the moment and there have also been multiple protests from taxi drivers across Paris and the US.
Uber’s general manager in London, Jo Bertram, told the BBC that the company rejected the LTDA’s characterisation and that competition was “always good for the customers because it makes all of us up our game in terms of quality and service".