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London Steers Clear of Anti-Uber Regulations

January 20, 2016, 2:18 PM UTC
The Uber logo is displayed on the window of a vehicle
The Uber Technologies Inc. logo is displayed on the window of a vehicle after dropping off a passenger at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. Uber Technologies Inc. investors are betting the five-year-old car-booking app is more valuable than Twitter Inc. and Hertz Global Holdings Inc. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Andrew Harrer — Bloomberg via Getty Images

London’s transport authority has unveiled long-awaited proposals for new taxi regulations, and they are mostly good news for companies like Uber.

When Transport for London (TfL) launched consultations for private hire companies last September, they included proposals such as a ban on apps that show nearby available cars, and regulations that would force operators (the category Uber drivers fall into) to wait five minutes after a passenger books a car to pick them up.

Those elements are not present in a final version of proposals TfL published Wednesday, and neither is a measure that would have forced private-hire companies to make customers pre-book cars up to a week in advance.

Uber, naturally, is thrilled.

“This is good news for Londoners and a victory for common sense,” said Jo Bertram, the firm’s UK head. “We’re pleased Transport for London has listened to the views of passengers and drivers, dropping the bonkers ideas proposed last year like compulsory five minute wait times and banning showing cars in apps. It means Uber can continue to keep London moving with a convenient, safe and affordable ride at the push of a button.”

TfL chief operating officer Garrett Emmerson said in a statement that Londoners had used the consultation to clearly indicate what they wanted the private-hire industry in the British capital to look like. “We had an overwhelming response to the consultation with 16,000 responses and all of the proposals we are taking forward received majority support,” he said.

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Approved proposals include requirements that taxi drivers be able to speak English, provide guaranteed fare estimates ahead of the trip, and maintain better record-keeping.

However, London mayor Boris Johnson—no friend of Uber’s—has asked TfL to look into whether private-hire vehicles should lose their exemption from London’s £11.50 ($16.30) daily congestion charge.

Johnson is concerned about the rapid proliferation of such cars in the capital in recent years. According to TfL, one in 10 vehicles entering the central-London congestion zone is a private-hire vehicle, and this “has contributed to wider challenges for London such as growing traffic congestion, illegal parking and areas of poor air quality.”

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Of course, that stat doesn’t mean more cars overall are entering the zone these days, just that more drivers may identify as working for private car services​. ​However, even if ordinary drivers are converting into Uber drivers, it could end up being that their increased activity has a negative effect.

The traditional London “black cab” industry (some of which its members are trying to launch a crowdfunded legal challenge to Uber’s operating license) is not at all happy with TfL’s decision to effectively avoid banning Uber with its new proposed regulations.

“Uber’s power in Whitehall, Downing Street and beyond has put enormous pressure on Transport for London, and we’ve seen TfL’s genuine desire to regulate private hire vehicles curtailed by the political pressure put upon it,” Steve McNamara, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), complained to the BBC.