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Sunday 6 August 2017

Black Cabs Call Uber Bluff

When is a private hire vehicle breaking the rules and actually “plying for hire”, the status only afforded to taxis, which in London means black cabs? The taxi trade has been trying to get TfL and other authorities to sort themselves out on this - and with little success so far. So some of their number are going to follow in driver and rider matching service Uber’s footsteps and have a nice day by the seaside tomorrow.
Before Uber and other app-only booking services came along, the rule was simple. In London, only a London taxi could ply for hire. A private hire vehicle had to be pre-booked, typically via the operator’s central control, which would then allocate the job.

But a stroll around central London shows how Uber and its drivers are turning their system into effectively acting as taxis: all those (usually white) Toyota Prius cruising around areas likely to yield more and better-paid jobs, so they will come up as first choice on the app. On occasion, they park up for a few minutes. But this is not some kind of ad hoc taxi rank, you understand. Just a creative movement of the goalposts.

Added to this is the propensity of Uber drivers whose vehicles are registered as far away as Manchester and Liverpool fetching up in places like Brighton, where local regulations for private hire vehicles include installation of sealed CCTV. The outsiders get round it, but the defence is that a job accepted via an app can be legally accepted, even when the vehicle is hundreds of miles from its licensed area.

This is because the argument goes that an app booking is a “pre-booking”. Fine, say the London taxi trade, we can do that too. So several of them are visiting Brighton tomorrow to just accept jobs via an app. They can only “ply for hire” in London, but can accept “pre booking” jobs anywhere. So what’s sauce for the goose, and all that.
Two important points have to be borne in mind here. One, Reading Council is taking action against Uber in a test case, arguing that they are effectively “plying for hire”. And two, if any app booking can be called a “pre booking”, then any taxi or private hire vehicle can go anywhere in the country to do business and the licensing authorities are powerless to even keep tabs on them - which is part of what happened in Rotherham.

On top of that, I’ve been advised “If an app job is deemed a ‘plying for hire job’ - a taxi driver can still accept an app job from Brighton to London - BUT THE DRIVER WOULD HAVE TO ACCEPT THE JOB WHILE IN LONDON & PHYSICALLY DRIVE TO BRIGHTON TO PICK THE CUSTOMER UP, WAITING FOR THE PING IN BRIGHTON WOULD BE ILLEGALLY PLYING FOR HIRE”. That would finish off Uber completely.

That’s because if an app booking is confirmed to be “plying for hire”, Uber would therefore be running an illegal operation and that would be that. This is another reason that Uber and their cheerleaders don’t want to talk regulation. Over and above all this is that TfL and other authorities - like Brighton Council - can’t confirm the status of app bookings. And there they all are handing out licenses all the same.

The whole shebang is so dysfunctional that it is well and truly screwed. And that, TfL and every other licensing authority involved, is not good enough.

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