Tuesday 13 September 2016 11:48 am

London mayor pledges new support for black cab industry in Uber fight

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has put his backing behind the capital's famous black cabs as they face competition from Uber with new measures to support the industry.

City Hall has promised to increase the number of taxi ranks around the city and increase access to bus lanes, while cab information will be added to Transport for London's journey planning information online by next summer.

The Taxi and Private Hire Action Plan was unveiled by City Hall on Tuesday morning amid a renewed battle between the transport regulator and Uber over rules governing its operations in the capital.

Read more: Uber shows why markets regulate better than the state

But Khan has also promised to push through measures aimed at improving public safety such as English language tests and insurance requirements which Uber has sought to fight in the courts, as well as seeking additional rules that would include requiring minicab drivers to pass an advanced driving test before being allowed on the road.

He is also calling for statutory definitions for private hire vehicles and taxis from the government to bring clarity across the industry which has been involved in a long standing dispute. Black cab drivers believe the Uber app constitutes "plying for hire" – picking up minicabs in the street – which is illegal. 

City Hall will also double the number of compliance officers on the streets and will offer traditional cabbies up to £7,500 in grants for switching to zero emission taxis as part of previously announced plans under Boris Johnson to reduce pollution in the capital.

“Our new Taxi and Private Hire Action Plan will help us deliver a truly world-class service for Londoners and create a vibrant taxi and private hire market where all providers can continue to flourish," said Khan.

“From my first day at City Hall I have been determined to drive up standards and improve safety for every passenger in London, while protecting the future of our iconic black cabs that provide a unique and invaluable service for Londoners.”

The trade group representing London's black cab drivers welcomed the measures.

“The taxi trade welcomes this plan and recognises its commitment to raising safety standards in the private hire industry. We particularly welcome the mayor’s decision to re-visit the requirement for operator insurance for private hire vehicles and his request that central government define plying for hire in statute,”  said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the London Taxi Driver Association.

Read more: Don't fall for the Uber hype – London needs a common sense approach to taxis

However, one union representing cabbies was more cautious and accused the mayor of "ducking responsibility".

"The union gives a guarded welcome to elements of this package that have already been widely trailed and we now expect that our London Taxi reps will be fully engaged ‎in discussions as to how this strategy moves forwards," said general secretary of the RMT union said.

"However, we are bitterly disappointed that once again the fundamental issues of illegal plying for hire and the abuse of the regulations by outfits like Uber have been ducked even though they pose the greatest threat to public safety and the future of the black taxi trade."

Uber has accused the mayor of favouring black cabs and discriminating against its drivers with the plans. 

"While black cabs will get £65m from the taxpayer, the mayor is piling extra costs and red tape onto licensed private hire drivers. This plan will cost drivers who use Uber hundreds of pounds and thousands may lose their livelihoods as a result. Fewer drivers will mean longer waiting times for passengers," said Uber London general manager Tom Elvidge.

The intervention was also questioned by experts.

"The Mayor of London should be levelling the playing field by reducing regulation, not heaping more on. Subsidising black cabs will place unfair costs on both the taxpayer and challengers in the private hire industry. Plus, compulsory English tests will place an unnecessary expense on drivers and could potentially cost them their livelihoods," said director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs Mark Littlewood.

“Regulatory intervention such as this should only be justified on the grounds of consumer protection, but these proposals do not even try to pretend to be in the interest of the consumer. It is not the Mayor of London’s job to pick winners in the taxi market, it should be up to consumer demand.”

Sam Dumitriu of the Adam Smith Institute added: “Sadiq's new rules are not in the interest of consumers, they seek to help Black Cabbies by making Uber more expensive and less profitable.

“Rather than regulating Uber and protecting Black Cabs, Sadiq should show that London is open to competition. He should lobby to remove the restrictions that ban the ridesharing business models of competitors like Lyft to give consumers a real choice.”