Uber avoids car pick-up app restrictions in London

Uber Image copyright PA
Image caption It had been proposed that Uber drivers would have to delay before being able to pick up passengers

London's transport authority has rejected proposals that would have severely restricted Uber and other app-focused car pick-up services.

The California-based private-hire company had urged its users to oppose suggestions that had included a ban on apps being able to show where their nearby available vehicles were.

The idea had been put forward following complaints from black-cab drivers about "unfair competition".

Uber has celebrated the "victory".

However, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) said there had been a "missed opportunity".

Other rejected measures included:

  • a minimum five-minute delay between pick-up confirmations being sent out and drivers being able to collect their passengers
  • a requirement that private-hire companies let customers pre-book cars up to seven days in advance
  • a limitation that drivers be registered to only a single operator at a time

Uber's drivers may still be inconvenienced by a new proposal.

The Mayor, Boris Johnson, has asked Transport for London (TfL) to investigate whether all private-hire drivers should lose their exemption from the city's congestion-charge scheme.

Image copyright PA
Image caption At present both black cabs and private hire vehicles are exempt from London's congestion charge zone

That would mean they would have to pay £11.50 to drive in a central zone on weekdays.

English tests

TfL launched a public consultation into the private hire trade last September.

It said it received 16,000 responses.

The organisation still plans to adopt some of the other proposals it made including:

  • requiring drivers to have a high enough standard of English
  • making it obligatory for operators to provide an estimated fare quote in advance - at present this is only shown in Uber's app if customers request it
  • making it a requirement that customers can speak to a real person if they want to make a complaint about their journey

TfL said a final decision on the proposed changes would be made on 17 March.

Uber now has more than 25,000 drivers using its service in London, roughly matching the number of black-cab drivers.

"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," said a spokesman for the app.

"It means Uber can continue to keep London moving with a convenient, safe and affordable ride at the push of a button."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Black-cab drivers have staged several protests against Uber

However, a spokesman for black-cab drivers had mixed feelings.

"There are 93,000 private hire vehicles at the moment and that's soon to be 120,000," Steve McNamara, LTDA's general secretary, told the BBC.

"They are a major contributor to congestion, so it's good common sense that they should have their exemption from the charging zone removed.

"But what's happened [with the dropped proposals] is that 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."

Taxi drivers are not, however, giving up their fight.

Some of them are organising a crowdfunding campaign to pay for a legal case that they hope will result in Uber's London licence being withdrawn.

The effort has raised just over £48,000 of its £600,000 target so far.

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