London protest against Uber symptomatic of global backlash
by Inline Policy on 10 Jun 2014
Tomorrow's protest against Uber, by an estimated 12,000 London taxi drivers, looks set to cause considerable disruption and have a significant negative economic impact too. Figures suggest that the protest could cost London’s economy as much as £125 million (see tonight’s London Evening Standard). The controversy centres on an app provided to Uber's drivers - 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.
The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, which is leading the protest, has claimed that the app equates to being a taximeter, which private vehicles are not allowed to use. Transport for London (TFL), London’s Transport Authority, recently announced that it does not believe that Uber is breaking the law, however has still invited the High Court to give a binding ruling on the matter “given the level of concern among the trade.” In another recent story which hit the headlines, the London office owned by taxi app Hailo was vandalised following the news that the company is opening up its service to private hire vehicles.
The protest in London is symptomatic of a broader global trend in the peer-to-peer car sector with companies such as Uber routinely in conflict with the incumbent taxi industry and regulators. In fact the protest in London is part of a European wide protest taking place tomorrow. Similar protests will be taking place in Madrid, Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Munich.
It is, however, in the United States, the birthplace of much of the peer-to-peer car sector, where the battles are increasingly bitter. We have, in recent weeks, seen Virginia State Officials order Uber and Lyft to stop operating in the State. In Chicago, ridesharing ordinance has been approved by the City Council following fierce debate and various attempts to stall the legislation. In Boston, the Boston Taxi Drivers Association staged a rally two weeks ago outside Uber’s offices in the city.
The examples are numerous and the various regulatory battles show no real sign of abating. What is clear is that companies such as Uber and Lyft are here to stay and consumers are embracing such services. Whilst the battles are a continual challenge, the growth of such companies remains undimmed. Uber for example has recently been valued at a staggering $18.2 billion which is a remarkable valuation given the company was founded only five years ago. The taxi industry is clearly up for a fight and wants to see a level playing field. Only time will tell if such protests are successful in achieving their aims or if they fall on deaf ears.