The long-running battle between Uber and black cabs may be drawing to a civilised conclusion, and we can thank the beneficial forces of market competition for calming this mighty feud. Faced with the realisation that Uber isn’t going anywhere, the black cab industry has taken the sensible and welcome step of deciding to compete with the challenger rather than just shout about it.
The industry’s new action plan features such bright ideas as rolling out fast WiFi and contactless payment across the black cab network. These consumer-facing innovations are a marked improvement on previous efforts to deal with new competition.
Indeed, over the past few years, black cabs have brought parts of London to a standstill in protest at the arrival of the Californian tech giant and have expended huge amounts of energy in trying to make life tough for its competition.
A Transport for London consultation on how best to regulate Uber was flooded with submissions in a campaign coordinated by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association. Most of the resulting proposals were absurd (such as requiring an Uber driver to wait for five minutes before accepting a booking) and many were rejected after politicians, passengers and business groups spoke out against a backwards-looking regulatory clampdown.
Now, the LTDA’s boss, Steve McNamara, asserts that the future lies in his own members’ commitment to making London cabs “the best taxi service in the world”. Indeed, offering a new slogan that could well have been lifted from the pages of Uber’s marketing materials, he says he wants his trade to be “faster, smarter and greener”.
This change of heart is a welcome development and McNamara, for so long a passionate critic of Uber’s arrival in the market, should be applauded for having seen the light. Cabs may not be able to compete with Uber on price, but they can certainly give them a run for their money by embracing technology (as many already do) and by seeking out innovations of their own.
Of course, it’s unlikely that the taxi industry would be seeking improvements to the customer experience were it not under pressure from Uber. In other words, competition has made them up their game and all parties stand to benefit.