Don't fall for the Uber hype - London needs a common sense approach to taxis

 
Remo Gerber
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The taxi battle in the capital has been reignited (Source: Getty)

The lavishly resourced Uber PR machine has cranked into gear once again - with a blizzard of activity attempting to obstruct Transport for London's eminently sensible new rules for regulating the taxi industry in London.

Quite why Uber are huffing and puffing as much as they are is anyone’s guess: TFL - the industry's regulator - want to make sure that if you get in a taxi in London the driver will be properly insured and able to speak, at least, “a limited amount of English”. Is that really too high a bar for this great capital city? I don’t think it is.

This industry, of which the business I run in the UK - Gett - is an important part, has changed beyond all recognition in just a few years: technology has moved traveller interaction with taxis away from telephone booking and on-street hailing to in app booking via smartphone.

This change is irreversible, and these thoroughly welcome developments have required some common-sense updates to the rules.

Read more: Uber launches legal challenge over new London taxi rules

And that’s the point: taxis are one of London’s essential industries, part of an interconnected transport infrastructure and vital for our economy. For London to attract inward investment and be seen as an efficient place to do business we have to have excellent ground transportation; we can’t allow third rate standards to go unchallenged.

Given the ‘Brexit’ vote, it’s especially important that this industry works together in London’s best interests, proving to the world - as Mayor Sadiq Kahn has rightly said - that the city is open for business. London has to be the priority; we can’t indulge one operator that doesn’t want to play by common sense rules.

There are 2,000 taxi operators in London; it would appear that 1,999 of us are happy with regulations enforcing a safe, efficient and high performance service. No serious operator will have any problem with these new regulations that are a much needed update for an industry that is changing at a meteoric rate.

It may be worth reflecting on why Uber objects so strongly to common-sense rules on safety that it is threatening to take TFL to court. This would be a real waste of TFL’s public funds as they would be forced to defend a pointless action at a time when we should all be working together in London’s best interests.

It is a significant error to see Uber as the poster child for free enterprise and these regulations as some great hindrance to technologic progress. It’s sad to see some respectable members of the business community, and some of the media, making this mistake. Gett is a case in point: we are investing millions of pounds in technology and innovation, much of which goes to London, where we employ hundreds of people. The claim that the new regulations stifle innovation is simply not true. They haven’t stifled our ability to invest or innovate in this billion pound industry - nor the abilities of our many competitors also investing millions in taxi technology.

Finally, one of the best moves we can now make is to remove the congestion charge exemption from Private Hire Vehicles. Traffic congestion is becoming an acute issue and it’s hard not to see a connection with that and the soaring numbers of licensed Private Hire Vehicles on the streets - the one downside of this technological revolution.

Read more: Uber just renewed its feud with London's regulators

For the sake of a few pence per ride that no committed driver will notice, journey times will improve, the utilisation of each vehicle will increase and the driver will make more overall; good, sound economics in practice. Innovation and investment goes for nothing in a gridlocked city; London can’t be allowed to become a giant car park.

Even though Gett would also be affected by this change we give it our whole-hearted support; we want to see London traffic flowing freely, with shorter journey times and less pollution.

London already has the best black cabs in the world, and it deserves to have the best private hire taxis too. Why would we settle for less? London is open - but we have to work together to keep it that way.

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