London cabbies stage Uber protest

London's famous black cabs choking the city's streets as the cabbies protested against Uber in central London on Wednesday. The cabbies are crying foul because they feel that while they are subject to strict regulations, drivers for the ride-calling
London's famous black cabs choking the city's streets as the cabbies protested against Uber in central London on Wednesday. The cabbies are crying foul because they feel that while they are subject to strict regulations, drivers for the ride-calling app have it easy.PHOTO: REUTERS

They block streets, calling for ride-sharing app's drivers to face the same regulations

LONDON • Thousands of drivers of London's traditional black cabs blocked some of the city's busiest streets in a protest against the lack of regulations imposed on Uber.

San Francisco-based Uber, whose investors include Goldman Sachs and Google, has grown rapidly around the world but has faced protests, bans and restrictions in several cities.

London cabbies brought their vehicles to a standstill on Wednesday around Parliament Square and Whitehall, near the Houses of Parliament, tooting their horns at regular intervals to make their discontent clear.

They say that, while they have to comply with a string of regulations - including passing The Knowledge, a famously tough test in which they have to memorise tens of thousands of destinations - drivers for the ride-calling app do not.

"We are not saying do away with Uber. We just want them to have the same regulations that we have," said Mr Steve Wilson, 47, who has driven a black cab for 22 years.

Uber insists it does not want to put black cabs out of business.

"Common-sense regulations combined with new technology can help ensure that black cabs and apps like Uber live side by side," it said in a statement. "It's the best of both worlds. Londoners and tourists would be free to choose whether they want to hail a car on the street or push a button and get a ride for generations to come."

Unions say the growth in private hire cars like those using Uber has also impacted congestion and air pollution. "We feel that Uber exploits its drivers by using their self-employed status to extract maximum income from them which translates to those drivers working long hours," said Mr Jim Kelly at the Unite union. "The reduction in safety for passengers because of the 'light touch' regime is to be deplored. It is a race to the bottom, when in 2016 we want the highest possible standards," he said.

Uber has faced protests in New Delhi, Brussels, Paris, New York and Kuala Lumpur, among other cities. And the company has also come under pressure in the US from its own drivers after it recently cut fares in the US and Canada.

New York has also tried to limit the number of Uber vehicles operating in the city but the local government backed down after public opposition to the plan.

Taxi drivers in Kuala Lumpur protested last November against Uber, rival service Grabcar and the government for allowing the ride-sharing services to continue operating.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'London cabbies stage Uber protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe