Transport for London’s recent decision to reject proposals that would have placed restrictions on Uber is yet another sign that the gap between Hackney carriages and private hire vehicles has closed considerably. Black cabs in London especially face a significant challenge to their market, more so as the app is popular throughout London, and other cities are able to deliver taxis and private hire vehicles within minutes of being called via a smartphone.
Black cab drivers are rightly outraged. All have undertaken the long and arduous task of completing the "knowledge" and face limitations as to the type of vehicle they must use. Equally, a private hire vehicle may not ply for hire nor be hailed in the street, but must only be booked through a third party such as a licensee or booking agency. Anyone who does not need to hail a vehicle himself will use a smartphone to do it for him. Within minutes and sometimes seconds a car will be at your side. The consequence and reality is there is no doubt that many Uber mini cabs are breaking the law, a fact recognised by the Mayors’ office, so what advantage does a black cab have over such technology in the future? Black cabs are a tradition and famous sight on London streets, long recognised as a significant part of London life. However, nostalgia has no hold over technology. Increasing competition now faced by black cabs and the added expense incurred through vehicle regulations, is in stark contrast to the lower costs of running a private hire vehicle that is able to attract business through technology, which is effectively replacing hailing a cab.
A local authority has no power to restrict the number of mini cabs. The rise in London particularly has been expediential. In 2008, the numbers of private hire vehicles in London stood at 48,000. This has now grown to a record 82,000, which to some is managing to cause serious congestion in Central London.
The Law Commission has recommended that the two tier system should continue, but is this a realistic proposition? Many in Government would say the free market and deregulation was the way forward, but would this in turn impact on the safety of the public? Standards that have been set by the black cab trade over the years and are reflected in their premium service may be way forward in the future. It will also be recognised that the standards set by the "Black Cab" trade should be the benchmark to be followed throughout the country. There does not appear to be any appetite to regulate or challenge the longstanding legal distinctions between Hackney carriages and private hire vehicles. It is all very well to have competition and choice but it is also a freedom to operate safely under the law. At present, it looks like two distinct operating theatres will continue but is that distinction operating fairly?