Mon, Sep 07, 2015 - Page 15 News List

London’s black-cabs use Halio against Uber

HEATED COMPETITION:Taxi drivers in London are using Uber’s own weapon, the smartphone app, in their latest attempt to compete against the US taxi company

The Guardian

Hailo, founded by three taxi drivers and three Internet entrepreneurs in 2011, is available in 20 cities and has raised over US$100 million from investors.

A bank of monitors in the reception area of the Victorian office block that is the headquarters for London’s black-taxi drivers shows rolling videos of cabs blocking streets in central London last year and this year in protest at the rise of rival car service Uber.

It seems a trifle negative for a body representing drivers who pride themselves on getting people around the capital quickly, comfortably and safely.

“We all thought long and hard about staging those demonstrations,” Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association general secretary Steve McNamara said.

He adds that they were a last-ditch attempt to highlight the weakness of the industry’s regulator, Transport for London (TFL), in the face of increasingly stiff competition from Uber, the smartphone app for hailing minicabs.

“There was always a danger that it could make us look negative, but faced with a regulator cowed by a US$40 billion company, and a chancellor happy to let UK taxpayers subsidize — through state benefits paid to Uber drivers earning less than the minimum wage — a US company that domiciled itself abroad to avoid UK tax, we had no choice,” he said.

FIGHTING BACK

McNamara, who has held a black- cab license for 30 years, is speaking as his members unveil a more positive way of fighting back against Uber, which denies his claims and says it is a net contributor to the London economy.

London’s black-cab operators have been labeled Luddites for their anti-Uber stance, and their protests have not always won widespread support, but now they are turning to the world of smartphone apps to help them respond competitively to Uber and others. Some black cabs have signed up with a rival app, Gett and offer discounts of up to 30 percent on the metered fare for journeys of 6 miles (9.66km) or more and those made in off-peak hours.

“We’re going to give you a discount when we’re not busy,” McNamara said.

“But our bread-and-butter business — 90 percent of our journeys are less than six miles — will not be discounted. If this scheme gets more people to choose the professional service offered by our members, it’s a win-win situation,” he said.

“More Londoners will take advantage of the best taxi service in the world, and cabbies will take home more money overall at the end of the day,” he said.

The competitive fight-back was welcomed by Uber, which sees itself as the driver of competition in the taxi market.

“This is great for consumers as it gives Londoners more choice,” An Uber spokesperson said, adding that its technology responded to real-time demand, allowing it to be 25 percent to 40 percent cheaper at normal times.

Passengers taking black cabs with Gett are also to be offered the option to fix the price at the beginning of a journey rather than rely, more traditionally, on the meter.

Staying competitive

The move from Gett, which has signed up about 7,000 black-cab drivers (there are about 25,000 in total), will help black cabs compete with Uber on price, at least on some journeys.

Traditionally, taxi fares have been charged on a meter, based on time and mileage, according to a scale set by TFL.

“Black cabs are the fastest and safest way to get around,” Gett’s head of marketing Kim Monney said.

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