The Uber logo is displayed on a car window.
Photograph by Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg via Getty Images

The ride-sharing company offered to let traditional cab drivers use its app for free.

By David Meyer
February 9, 2016

As part of its ongoing quest to make London’s taxi drivers hate it less, Uber has opened up its app to their “black cabs” with the promise that they won’t have to pay any service fees for the next year.

This is not the first time Uber has turned its app into a portal for traditional taxis — indeed regulators in Berlin have clamped down so hard on the company that that’s all the Uber app does there. However, London’s regulators have been friendlier to Uber, making the move announced Tuesday appear a bit more conciliatory.

It would be churlish to point out that Uber’s offer comes a day before taxi drivers plan to protest in London about the U.S. firm’s alleged tax avoidance (they claim Uber paid less tax in 2015 than just four London taxi drivers).

“We believe that black cabs and Uber can coexist,” said Uber’s regional chief for the U.K., Ireland and the Nordics, Jo Bertram, in a blog post. Bertram argued that black cabs have “unique advantages” such as the ability to pick up passengers who hail them in the street, or use taxi ranks outside hotels and transport hubs.

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There was a subtle (albeit accurate) dig in the post, as Bertram stressed how taxis get to serve the wealthiest and get a steady flow of “high-priced” trips. She also went on to repeat Uber’s standard lobbying points about how out-of-date taxi regulations are.

But nonetheless, Bertram suggested that Uber could “help black cabs reach new passengers so they get more custom,” and make it easier for Londoners to get and pay for a black cab if they want one.

“Common sense regulations combined with new technology can help ensure that black cabs and apps like Uber live side by side,” she wrote.

So what’s the reaction from the cab drivers’ representatives? Less than enthusiastic.​

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“With over 15,000 cabbies registered with specific taxi-hailing apps like Gett and Hailo, we would be amazed if any drivers decide to take up Uber’s offer,” said Steve McNamara, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, who slammed Uber’s “dodgy tax arrangements.”

“We haven’t been consulted on this at all: It’s just another PR stunt from a company that spends £250,000 [$360,000] every month on lobbying and PR. The response is ‘thanks, but no thanks’.”

Meanwhile, Uber itself has gone on strike in France, to protest against regulation. Presumably Uber staff and drivers won’t follow the lead of taxi drivers who, when protesting against the firm in Paris last month, set fire to tires and caused general havoc.

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