Uber’s use of a smartphone app to calculate fares has caused controversy
London’s transport authority has announced it does not believe Uber’s car service is breaking the law by using an app to determine charges.
However, Transport for London added it would invite the High Court to give a binding ruling on the matter “given the level of concern among the trade”.
The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) has claimed the app equates to being a taximeter, which private vehicles are not allowed to use.
It plans a demonstration on 11 June.
The organisation announced the action earlier this month, saying it intended to cause “severe congestion and traffic chaos for large parts of central London”.
It confirmed that TfL’s announcement would not change its plans.
High Court ruling
The controversy centres on an app provided to Uber’s drivers – which is separate from the one used by the public – that calculates the journey distance and time taken, and then relays this information to remote computer servers to determine the fee.
TfL’s decision is based on the fact that Uber’s kit does not require a physical connection between the device and the vehicle, as is the case with the equipment used by black cabs.
However, it added that “the rapid pace at which smartphone-based technology has been developing in recent years” meant the matter should be referred to a judge.
“We will be asking the High Court to provide a binding ruling,” added Leon Daniels, TfL’s managing director of surface transport.
London black cab drivers plan to cause “chaos” when they stage a protest in June
“This is the sensible approach, and we hope that London’s taxi drivers and private hire drivers and operators will work with us to bring clarity on this issue.”
However, LTDA is in no mood to co-operate.
“The taxi trade have no confidence in TfL and its legal team whatsoever and we will be issuing proceedings of our own,” its general secretary Steve McNamara told the BBC.
“This attitude demonstrates why we are being forced to demonstrate. TfL is simply not fit for purpose.”
However, Uber’s London manager proved more receptive.
“We very much welcome TfL’s announcement today bringing clarity and confirming that TfL and Uber fully share the vision that technology should be a key driver in changing the way people are moving around their city, improving the experience for both riders as well as drivers,” said Jo Bertram.
San Francisco-based Uber describes itself as a “pick-up” service that connects those needing a ride with a background-checked private driver. It then takes a cut – typically 20% – of the fee.
It now operates in more than 100 cities across 30 countries.
It highlights both the safety features offered to customers – letting them see the name and photo of the driver before they arrive – as well as offering the drivers themselves the flexibility to set their own hours and the area where they want to work.
Uber’s chief executive says he believes Uber will offer driverless pick-ups in the future
However, comments by the firm’s chief executive on Wednesday may give some potential recruits reason to pause.
Travis Kalanick told an audience in California the firm’s long-term plan was to replace drivers with self-controlled cars.
His comments followed Google’s announcement that it would start building its own self-drive vehicles – the search giant is one of Uber’s investors.
“Look, this is the way the world is going,” Mr Kalanick said, when questioned about how he would explain this to the workers.
“If Uber doesn’t go there, it’s not going to exist either way… the world isn’t always great.”
He later tweeted that he thought the move would take a couple of decades to achieve.
But the timing of his comments offers the LTDA another way to attack a firm it has already described as an “American monster”.
“Its drivers can work very flexibly, they can stay at home all day if they work for Uber – they’ll be unemployed,” said Mr McNamara.
“I think driverless cars is still very much a Star Wars technology. While it may work in some cities in the distant future, I cannot see it working in a city like London with the complex layout of its streets.”
What’s ahead on Uber’s path? Raising unprecedented amounts of money to outspend competitors, hiring key political PR experts to throw dirt on the taxi industry, and eventually ditching drivers to use self-driving cars. That’s according to CEO Travis Kalanick, who spoke today at the Code Conference.
Also, Uber has struck a new deal with AT&T to provide the carrier’s phones to drivers, and to be preloaded onto AT&T phones.
The thing to understand about Uber is that it’s different from other tech companies, Kalanick said. “It’s not Pinterest where people are putting up pins. You’re changing the way cities work, and that’s fundamentally a third rail.”
“We’re in a political campaign, and the candidate is Uber and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi,” Kalanick said. “Nobody likes him, he’s not a nice character, but he’s so woven into the political machinery and fabric that a lot of people owe him flavors.”
Think Uber’s going to take the high road? No such luck. The company is looking to hire a senior executive who has run political campaigns, or who has run cities, Kalanick said. “We have to bring out the truth about how dark and dangerous and evil the taxi side is.”
Yup, Uber is raising money right now, and it could be at a reported valuation of $17 billion. “This one could be record-breaking,” Kalanick said.
Why? Because he runs a company whose competitors — namely Lyft — also have a lot of money to spend. “We do 10 times more trips than them and on a booking basis we’re 20 times bigger,” Kalanick claimed. “If they have the same amount of funding we spend faster, so you have to make sure you have a cash advantage.”
Will Uber sell to Google, which is one of its big investors, asked Re/code’s Kara Swisher. “You just asked a happily married man who his next wife is going to be,” was Kalanick’s cute reply. He then tried to take the coupling metaphor further. “In order to keep the love going, you want to keep it fun.” And would Uber acquire companies? “Are we going to adopt children? I don’t know.” It got a little weird.
That’s the way of the future, he said. “The reason Uber is expensive is not the car, it’s the other dude in the car. When there’s no dude in the car, the cost of taking the vehicle somewhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. And then car ownership goes away.”
Asked whether Uber drivers would be pleased to hear they’ll be replaced by computers, Kalanick replied, “It’s quite a ways off … but this is the way the world’s going to go.” More on that here.
I am sure most of you are aware of the current challenges the trade faces, basically technology is moving forward at a much faster rate than the trade is, due to this a number of commercial companies are exploiting this gap in technology, e.g. Hailo, but more recently Uber and other companies, as you might have seen there was significant backlash last week when it became clear that Hailo had applied for a Private Hire licence, please be sure that the only reason Hailo have done this is to increase profits, they have also made it clear that they intend to offer the work to the closest taxi/mini cab when jobs come in, well I am not sure that will happen, Hailo make 10% from black taxis and Uber make 30% from private hire, so Hailo will be working hard to get enough Private Hire drivers on board so they can make 30% from each journey.
With all of this in mind I have sat down with a number of green badge drivers and we have been planning an app that will compete directly against all the other apps, these are the details, we have started work on an app called TaxiCab app, it will be a run on a not for profit basis, it will need to make money to run but covering its overheads + a little bit more to cover promotion, expansion etc. The organisation will be setup so that the app can never be sold to private enterprise and will be run with the primary goal of supporting the London Black Cab Trade at minimal costs to the drivers, we have more than 900 followers on twitter already and outside of twitter there is a lot of interest in the app, other than myself, Pete Crane (AKA PeteCee) is involved, Jamie (Owner of Sherbet Radio) is involved and Steve (@CabbieLDN) is also deeply involved, we have a number of other people involved as well but these are the main people getting their hands dirty in the project.
So on twitter our account is @TaxiCabLDN please give us a follow if you use twitter (we will follow you back so we can discuss things privately if you want), we have a number of features that none of the other apps can do (because they would lose money if they did it) so we are totally focused on the trade and promoting the black taxi trade exclusively within the app.
In the coming weeks when we hit certain milestones in the development I would like to give demo versions of the app out to some of you so that you can help us test some of the features, we will be doing the same with a number of drivers as well.
The news feed for progress will be
Some features will not be discussed in open discussions as like most things, you can only show some features once they are ready to go and tested.
I can’t stress this enough, we are fed up with money men coming into the trade and messing with things to turn a quick profit, we are hoping this app will reverse this trend.