Online private taxi app Uber has responded to criticisms from the London Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) that it is an illegal service and “dangerous to Londoners.”
Posted on its blog today by Jo Bertram, Uber’s general manager in London, the embattled app explained that: “Uber has been fully licensed as a Private Hire Operator since our launch in London nearly two years ago, and we meet all the required private hire regulations. As per the regulations, cars using the Uber platform do not have a taximeter – TFL have confirmed that smart phones used by private hire drivers do not constitute the equipping of a vehicle with a taximeter.”
The LTDA has been a vocal critic of Uber since it launched in London two years ago, and it has promised to bring “chaos, congestion and confusion” in a planned protest at some point in June in an interview with the BBC.
For the most part, the LTDA’s main complaint is about how Uber’s private taxi drivers find and calculate fares. Steve McNamara, the LTDA’s general secretary, argues that Uber’s drivers use a “specific device that’s programmed to be a meter” which is therefore illegal under the Private Hire Vehicle Act.
Uber and Transport for London, the governmental body that manages transport in the capital, argue that this isn’t the case because there’s no connection between the device and the vehicle. TfL even published fresh guidance on the issue to clarify its position:
“Smartphones used by private hire drivers – which act as GPS tracking devices to measure journey distances and relay information so that fares can be calculated remotely from the vehicle – do not constitute the equipping of a vehicle with a taxi meter.”
In its statement, Uber was complimentary of London’s black cab history, but explained that competition was better for the industry and the consumer: “London cabbies are iconic – arguably the best taxis in the world. However, there is room for all and there is room for more and better. We are bringing competition to an industry that hasn’t evolved in years. This competition benefits riders and drivers, and raises the quality and service levels offered by the industry.”
Uber has faced stiff opposition from established taxi services in the US, France, Germany and it was even banned in Brussels last month with any driver caught working for the service facing fines of up to 10,000 euros.
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Despite this, Uber has experienced rising and rapid success. It has been valued by analysts at around $17 billion, has a $20 million weekly income and has received millions in investment from Google, Goldman Sachs, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos and others.