London's black cab industry needs a regulatory overhaul to compete with the likes of Uber, say academics

 
Rebecca Smith
The study says black cab drivers pay more than three times that of private hire drivers to enter the industry
The study says black cab drivers pay more than three times that of private hire drivers to enter the industry (Source: Getty)

It's no secret that Uber's rise and its impact on the capital's transport network hasn't gone down well with many black cab drivers.

Now a study by the University of the West of England and the University of Greenwich has suggested the capital's black cab industry needs a complete regulatory overhaul to compete with the ride-hailing app and other businesses like it.

The study said the ride-hailing app's emergence had driven a fall in prices and led to black cab drivers reporting a loss in custom. It has made it easier for people to move around the city and led to some changing their choice of transport altogether - ditching the night bus for Uber.

Read more: Uber loses High Court case against TfL on English tests for drivers

So academics from the universities have recommended a series of policy changes which they feel could help the historic service remain competitive amid increasing rivalry.

These include tackling the barriers to entry to enable black cab drivers to compete more effectively. The academics said black cab drivers have to pay more than three times that of private hire drivers to enter the industry and also have to pass the Knowledge test before starting work.

The universities suggest streamlining the assessment process using technology could help reduce costs and the length of time taken to complete the test - typically around three years. The researchers also recommended drivers be allowed to ply their trade while learning for the test and that Transport for London (TfL) offer more flexibility in the pricing structure

The universities conducted a pilot study of 40 taxi drivers, 20 black cab ones and 20 Uber drivers, about the impact of changes in the market and carried out an online survey of customers about their reasons for using taxis.

The lead investigators of the research, Professor Glenn Parry from UWE Bristol and Dr Zena Wood from the University of Greenwich, said:

Uber has made it easier for individuals to move around the city, and it appears to be fulfilling a gap in the existing transportation system where other modes of transport do not fully support the transport needs of individuals.

They added that the current regulatory approach won't allow black cabs to become more competitive. "Black cabs are not able to control their competitive boundaries such that their business model cannot be adapted to compete or morph to meet specific customer requirement," the researchers said.

Read more: Uber to transfer elderly patients in tie-up with social care start-up Cera

Last week, Uber lost a key part of its legal case against TfL after a High Court ruled private hire drivers will be forced to pass a written English exam. The company is appealing what it thinks is an "unfair and disproportionate rule" that will lead to thousands of drivers leaving the industry either by failing the test or being deterred from trying to renew their licence.

TfL says the test is necessary to boost standards across the industry and set the change out amid new regulations, after a wide-ranging consultation of the taxi and minicab industry.

TfL commissioner Mike Brown said the English language requirement had received "very strong support" in both consultations carried out.

What the academics think should be switched up:

Break down barriers to entry Black cab drivers pay more than three times that of private hire drivers to enter the industry and have to pass the Knowledge test before starting work
Streamlining the assessment process Using tech to streamline the process could help reduce costs and the length of time taken to complete the Knowledge, which typically takes three years to achieve
Revising the method of assessment Drivers should be permitted to ply their trade while learning the Knowledge
Offering more flexibility in the pricing structure This, set by TfL, could help to boost black cabs' competitiveness

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