Wednesday 10 February 2016 7:36 am

Uber and other private hire firms want to act as taxis, but without the costs: This is why Black Cab drivers are protesting TfL’s private hire review today

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

Catherine Neilan is head of politics and investigations at City A.M.

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A taxi demonstration is being held in Whitehall today in protest at this government’s intervention in proposed changes and updates to the private hire act 1998.

Many proposals were both sensible and in the public interest. One of the changes was that any “app” may not display the whereabouts of an available vehicle in law this is “exhibition”. Another was a five minute time lapse between booking and availability. These may seem insignificant to the layman, but are fundamental to law.

We have a two tier system in the UK: taxis may be immediately hired and private hire vehicles must be “pre-booked”. When the 1998 act was enacted there were no apps, and suffice to say there are “gaps and anomalies” as a result.

Read more: Black cabs and Uber can co-exist in London

The review, published last month, was set to correct these omissions and draw distinct lines between immediately available taxis and pre-booked private hire vehicles (PHV), including minicabs and firms such as Uber.

Private hire vehicles must not exhibit themselves as available for hire. There are many court cases covering this, though Rose v Welbeck motors is often quoted. These apps show where a vehicle is and its availability – under law this is exhibition.

The act states a journey in a PHV must be pre-booked. So what is a pre-booking? If you were going to travel by train and you turned up at a booking kiosk 60 seconds before the train departs is that pre-booking? The proposed change was a five minute lapse. If you know that you cannot have a car for five minutes, why not push the button five minutes before you travel?

Without the five minute lapse, the private hire driver is in direct competition with a taxi, while bearing none of the costs of a taxi.

Read more: TfL explains why it ditched the five-minute rule

In 2010 the law commission undertook a two year review of the taxi laws and concluded a two tier system was in the public interest.

For a two tier system to exist there has to be boundaries. Exhibition and immediate availability are the preserve of the taxi trade, while pre-booking is the distinction of the private hire trade. Uber – which opposes the five minute rule – want to act as taxis without the associated costs of taxis. This is contrary to the company's licensing conditions.

The choice is simple. If London wants its highly regulated, safe and on demand gold standard taxis, there needs to be a clear understanding that we aren’t supported by the taxpayer or charities.

Government must not allow private hire operators to ignore the legislation. The taxi trade cannot survive with unfair competition.

Take away our meters and our regulation and then can we charge what we like when you are stuck late at night in the rain? Or can we refuse to take you at all?

Remember we are regulated to protect you, the consumer. But we need the regulation to keep the distinction between taxis and pre booked PHVs to protect us from unfair competition.