London’s roads were brought to a standstill today as up to 12,000 black cab drivers protested against US taxi firm Uber.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), which helped to organise the protest, claims Uber’s drivers are using smartphone apps to work out fares, despite it being illegal for private vehicles to be fitted with taximeters.

Uber, founded in 2009, describes itself as a “pick-up” service that connects passengers with vetted private drivers. The company’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 LTDA complained to Transport for London but the organisation has referred the case to the High Court because it says Uber’s vehicles are not “equipped” with taximeters since there is no “connection between the device and the vehicle”.  

Black cab drivers maintain that they can offer a better and cheaper service than Uber.

While driving to the protest, Roy Lovett, a black cab driver of 14 years, told Techworld: “They can’t use bus lanes so they’re going to sit in the traffic. They don’t know the knowledge to get out of the traffic. We have so many routes in our head for which way to go and we change them as we’re moving.”

He added: “We feel we’re being sold down the river by TfL. We spend 4-5 years of our lives training to do this. We give up a lot of things to become a cab driver. Our kids don’t see us because we’re doing the knowledge. What safety have they got? We’re all CBR checked and everything.”  

Uber revealed that sign-ups to its app had rocketed 850 percent as taxi drivers stood outside their cars talking to one another during the protest on some of London’s busiest roads, including Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and the Strand.

The rise in user numbers is likely to have been fuelled by a new feature that Uber rolled out to its app, which allows customers to choose whether they want to ride in a black cab.

Jo Bertram, the app's UK and Ireland general manager, said it had seen its biggest day of sign-ups since it launched in London two years ago.

"Today we’re seeing an 850 per cent increase in sign-ups compared to last Wednesday. The results are clear: London wants Uber in a big way. Unsurprisingly, the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association (LTDA), which is stuck in the dark ages, is intent on holding London to ransom and causing significant economic impact to Londoners today, estimated to be £125m," she said.

“We join Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police in calling on the LTDA and others to call off this unnecessary and irresponsible strike. We passed TfL’s most stringent and comprehensive audit of a Private Hire Vehicle operator to date, passing with flying colours. We are proud to be in London, we are proud to serve London, and we are here to stay. Uber on London!”

Uber has seen its features mimicked by companies like Hailo and Kabbee. These apps connect passengers to drivers of licensed black cabs and minicabs.

Lovett said that black cab drivers don’t want to use smartphone apps to do their job, pointing to the fact that Hailo has been nicknamed “Failo” by many of London’s black cab drivers.

Steve McNamara, of the LTDA, told the BBC: "We have nothing against competition but we feel that Transport for London has failed Londoners by allowing Uber to operate outside the law." 

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