back to article Has the UK Uber crackdown begun? TfL opens consultation on private car biz

Transport for London (TfL) has today opened a public consultation on the regulations governing private-hire taxis, a move that could see a major clampdown on the way Uber operates. The proposals include stricter controls on insurance and tighter controls on private hire bookings, such as forcing operators to provide booking …

Technology changes society. Get used to it.

Uber is just a mini cab firm with a modernized interface.

Option A: Try and milk Uber and other mini cab people for the same amount of cash as cabbies to make it unprofitable.

Option B: Stop milking cabbies for so much cash to help them compete.

I guess which option will be taken.

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Whilst "Technology changes society" is true, is it not unreasonable for disruptive technology to be reviewed before being let into the marketplace. Its difficult to argue that Uber is worse than a local mini cab business in London, for instance i would be surprised if i hadn't been picked up by an illegal cab more than once but as a multi billion dollar company they need to be held to the highest standard. Its already been shown by journalists that it is easy to use false credentials to set yourself up as a driver and frankly the cut they are taking is outrageous.

When people call for a free market they really mean a fair well regulated market. Uber looks like creating a monopoly very quickly if something isn't done about it. This isn't something that will benefit society.

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Not quite

For the time being the Uber "Interface" does not include:

1. Extra 5 miles detour around Terminal 5 and Terminal 4 if you take a cab from Heathrow and look like a foreigner. Or any other route for that matter

2. Obstruction of public highways when something is not going the Uber way

3. Spending half a day at a taxi rank at an airport chatting with 50 other lazy sods to skin a single mark 10 times the actual fare

And so on.

As long as cabs continue to charge based on time + distance traveled instead of a fixed cost from A-Z based on GPS the issue will stand. Milking Uber will not change a thing as it has a different charge basis which anyone who has been given the 30 mins extra run-around via the scenic route will definitely prefer going forward.

It is time for the Taxi licensing regs to be shredded and updated to the technical realities of today and the journeys to be charged purely on the basis of GPS distance.

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Society seems to realize that. Over 80,000 have signed a petition asking TfL to back down.

See http://order-order.com/2015/09/30/public-flock-to-back-uber/

Uber's petition is here - https://action.uber.org/tfl/

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"There will be a mandatory five minute wait time, even if a car is available just around the corner. You won’t even be able to see the nearest cars when you open the app."

[https://action.uber.org/tfl/ ]

So by it's own admission Uber see's itself as providing a "black cab" style of service rather than the hire car style of service it has (mis)presented itself as providing to the authorities.

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Technology changes society. Get used to it.

Technology that fucks people over needs to be thwacked with a 10lb lump hammer until said technology is a mass of shards on the ground.

Uber is just a mini cab firm with a modernized interface.

In which case it should be subject to the regulations as is everyone else. We wouldn't allow unregulated cabs just because they were voice controlled: BRAKE, TURN RIGHT, .... Or some touch screen device.

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Uber's 'petition'

I suspect that the vast majority of the 90,000+ 'people' who have signed Uber's 'petition' have little real understanding what it is they have signed up to:

"By entering your contact information and clicking "Sign Petition," you agree that Uber may use this information for various purposes relating to this petition, including adding your name, email address, telephone number, and/or zip code to an electronic petition, displaying your name on print materials, and sending a letter or email on your behalf to your local officials, which may include your full name, city, and/or zip code. You also agree that Uber may contact you via email, phone, or SMS (including by automatic telephone dialing system) at the email address or number provided, for purposes relating to this petition."

I like the fact that Uber does no checking of details, so "Not_A_Real_Person@Uber.Com" has signed up multiple times :)

Personally, I would simply participate in the TfL Public Consultation: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/tph/private-hire-proposals

At least that way I get to know the full facts and put my viewpoint across in a form that will carry much more weight than any lobbying Uber may perform using my details.

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Re: Uber's 'petition'

So TfL start a consultation, and Uber start a petition against having a consultation; do they not realise that a consultation is not the same as a conclusion?

Why are they trying to stifle a discussion? What have they got to fear? Why are they protesting; nobody has actually kicked them yet.

I think we should be told...

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Re: Not quite

"As long as cabs continue to charge based on time + distance traveled instead of a fixed cost from A-Z"

In a licensing area where fares are regulated any taxi is prefectly at liberty to charge whatever the hell they want up to the regulated ceiling. In areas where fares are regulated, it's only ply-for-hire fares (ie black cabs) that are regulated, private hire fares are unregulated but usually use the ply-for-hire fares. Legally, private-hire fares, as they are pre-booked, are whatever is negotiated prior to contracting the booking.

If any taxi (hackney or private hire) wants to charge a fixed A-to-B fare there is absolutely NOTHING stopping them*. Go on. If you think that's your Unique Selling Position, put your money where your mouth is and go ahead and do it.

*Other than the hackney fare ceiling.

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Re: Uber's 'petition'

@Roland6 - many thanks for the link. I've taken the time to respond. Much recommended and very enlightening.

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Re: Not quite

Private hire can charge more than a taxi, and stretch limos and similar often do.

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Isn't this just another example of disruptive technology going up against the incumbents? Surely the sat nav has long since done away with the need for The Knowledge, and yet it persists as a barrier to entry.

I support the idea of reviewing the regulations, but many of the proposals seem to be deliberately aimed at clobbering Uber rather than providing an improved service to the public. Yes to ensuring minimum levels of insurance, vehicle safety, criminal records checks.. but how does the requirement for a confirmation five minutes in advance actually make the service better, or allowing drivers to only work for one operator?

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Surely the sat nav has long since done away with the need for The Knowledge,

I'd rather risk a gob5hite cabby with The Knowledge at higher cost, than some untrained bloke totally reliant on gimcrack software and cheap IT hardware. But that's in The Smoke, where you generally get a proper vehicle designed for the purpose. Where I actually live, all the local taxis are umpteenth hand cr@pheaps, with shared driving by foreigners with a poor command of both English language and road law, and wholly reliant on satnavs. If you don't know the post code of your destination you may never get there.

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"Surely the sat nav has long since done away with the need for The Knowledge"

Clearly you don't use sat-nav very much, otherwise you would understand its very real limitations. Also if you've been on a "Speed Awareness" course in recent years (highly recommended, although getting yourself a place without having committed a driving offence is quite difficult), you may have been surprised to discover that sat-nav usage is directly behind mobile phones as a major cause of accidents; and black cabs take great pride in not having accidents...

"Isn't this just another example of disruptive technology going up against the incumbents?"

No it simply means that the technology isn't actually doing anything fundamentally different! In the case of Uber the key point is "the speed of the Uber app means that its cars are effectively hailed by users." So your smartphone with the Uber app has become a very effective current day "Sub-Etha Electronic Thumb" [1]- hence it is Uber who have simply become a more effective way of hailing a taxi and this have made themselves subject to the same regulations as the incumbents!

"but how does the requirement for a confirmation five minutes in advance actually make the service better"

If Uber are really in the private hire business then this should present no problems. Today, a receptionist will arrange a (private hire) taxi to take someone to the station or airport. On confirmation of that call the hire company will send out a car and their typical response will be: "the car will be with you in 5 minutes"...

[1] See Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy for details of this prior art - where it is clear from the conversation between Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect that the Electronic Thumb is more of a smartphone than a Thumb.

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>than some untrained bloke totally reliant on gimcrack software and cheap IT hardware

Which is why using computers in the city of London should be restricted to members of the BCS

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The Knowledge

"Surely the sat nav has long since done away with the need for The Knowledge."

No offence, but anyone saying that kind of demonstrates that they don't understand just how well-acquainted a cabbie becomes with London streets as a result of "doing the knowledge", as well as the other requirements of the Public Carriage Office.

I am yet to find a study where satnav went toe-to-toe with a cabbie and came out in front.

(If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend Jack Rosenthal's play/movie "The Knowledge" )

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Re: The Knowledge

Satnav alone doesn't know enough to beat anyone who drives regularly in an area - that's a given. The correct comparison is between the black-cabbies and others who drive regularly in central London. To quote Bill Bryson:

I took a cab to Hazlitt's Hotel on Frith Street. I like Hazlitt's because it's intentionally obscure ­ it doesn't even have a sign out front ­ which puts you in a rare position of strength with your cab driver. Let me say right now that London cab drivers are, without question, the finest in the world. They're trustworthy, safe, generally friendly, always polite. They keep their vehicles spotless inside and out, and they will put themselves to the most extraordinary inconvenience to drop you at the front entrance of your destination. There are really only two odd things about them. One is that they cannot drive more than 200 feet in a straight line. I've never understood this, but no matter where you are or what the driving conditions, every 200 feet a little bell goes off in their heads and they abruptly lunge down a side­street. And when you get to your hotel or railway station or wherever it is you are going, they like to drive you all the way around it at least once so that you can see it from all angles before alighting.

The other distinctive thing about them, and the reason I like to go to Hazlitt's, is that they cannot bear to admit that they don't know the location of something they feel they ought to know, like a hotel. They would sooner entrust their teenaged daughters to Alan Clark for a weekend than concede even fractional ignorance of The Knowledge, which I think is rather sweet. So what they do instead is probe. They drive for a bit, then glance at you in the mirror and in an over­casual voice say, 'Hazlitt's ­ that's the one on Curzon Street, innit, guv? Opposite the Blue Lion?' But the instant they see a knowing smile of demurral forming on your lips, they hastily say, 'No, hang on a minute, I'm thinking of the Hazelbury. Yeah, the Hazelbury. You want Hazlitt's, right?' He'll drive on a bit in a fairly random direction. 'That's this side of Shepherd's Bush, innit?' he'll suggest speculatively.

When you tell him that it's on Frith Street, he says, 'Yeah, that's the one. Course it is. I know it ­ modern place, lots of glass.'

'Actually, it's an eighteenth­century brick building.'

'Course it is. I know it.' And he immediately executes a dramatic U­turn, causing a passing cyclist to steer into a lamppost (but that's all right because he has on cycle clips and one of those geeky\slipstream helmets that all but invite you to knock him over). 'Yeah, you had me thinking of the Hazelbury,' the driver adds, chuckling as if to say it's a lucky thing he sorted that one out for you, and then lunges down a little side­street off the Strand called Running Sore Lane or Sphincter Passage, which, like so much else in London, you had never noticed was there before.

And things have only got worse since then. The reality is that these days there are any number of delivery drivers, couriers, tradesmen, and just ordinary people who know central London better than most cabbies.

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Re: The Knowledge

but studies about which is better is irrelevant. The real question is are sat nav's good enough and are people willing to pay more for 'the knowledge'.

The clear answer is yes and no.

Black cabbies know this and rather than adapt to the market they are attempting to use regulations to protect themselves.

It really depends why the regulations exist, if they are there to protect people and provide a good service then clearly its time for them to be relaxed, if its to push up costs and protect a few independent workers then yes throw uber to the wolves and while your at it ban all mini-cabs

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Re: The Knowledge

It really depends why the regulations exist, if they are there to protect people and provide a good service then clearly its time for them to be relaxed,

What? doesn't make sense, surely you meant:

It really depends why the regulations exist, if they are there to protect people and provide a good service then clearly its time for them to be enforced

If you actually meant what you said then some further explanation is required. If however the regulations have been embellished to protect a closed-shop then yes we should look at changes that help develop the market whilst retaining those that protect people and encourage the provision of good service.

I hope you take the time to respond directly to TfL.

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Re: The Knowledge

If the regulations are there, legitimately, to protect customers and provide a better service then they are not fit for purpose and should be relaxed / removed.

If the regulations are there to protect a small group of incumbents and push up fees then, while they are fit for purpose, they should still be relaxed / removed.

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What am I missing

Maybe I'm missing something, but I can't see the difference between what Uber does and what my local private hire firm does with their app. I.e. Allow me to book and pay for a taxi through a app

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Re: What am I missing

At the transaction level there is little real difference; the differences are in the service and relationship.

My understanding is that Uber effectively arranges a generic car to get you from A-to-B, it currently does a poor job of handling special needs or preferences. So for example for transporting vulnerable adults around, a client directly uses a local hire company, where not only have the drivers been screened/vetted, but that they can assign a driver known to the passenger. Additionally if there are any problems there is an established relationship between the driver, the hire company and the client company that is all part of the service (for example, passenger arrives at their 'destination' only to discover their carer has been taken to hospital, the chain of relationship enables the driver to make arrangements to take the passenger to a different address and relevant people and authorities to be informed).

So for "taxi" style journeys the Uber service is probably good enough, however the holes in the service only really arise when things either go wrong or have the potential to go wrong...

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Re: What am I missing

"My understanding is that Uber effectively arranges a generic car to get you from A-to-B, it currently does a poor job of handling special needs or preferences."

My understanding is this is the same for mini-cabs and black cabs.

"the drivers been screened/vetted"

From uber uk: "In the UK all partner-drivers are fully licensed by the local authority. As such they all undergo the same vetting process all taxi and cab drivers go through, this includes an enhanced DBS check.”

"assign a driver known to the passenger."

Uber is a new service, if they don't offer this service they may do in the future, if you want it then go with a firm you have a relationship with.

The only advantage I can see in your comment, is some local firms may build up a relationship with customers, whereas Uber currently doesn't, and may go above and beyond for them, where uber drivers may or may not. So really you are saying having choice and competition is a good thing.

If this is an advantage then hurray for local firms, and people will prefer them. If it isn't then who cares?

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Re: What am I missing @Matt

My comment was a direct answer to the question: "Maybe I'm missing something, but I can't see the difference between what Uber does and what my local private hire firm does with their app." namely, what is the difference between private hire and Uber, rather than the difference between Uber and black cabs, with an example (from one of my clients) as to why you might prefer to deal directly with a local hire firm rather than go via the Uber brokerage service.

"The only advantage I can see in your comment, is some local firms may build up a relationship with customers"

I wouldn't under estimate the power and economic value of person-to-person relationships.

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Re: What am I missing @Matt @Roland8

"My comment was a direct answer to the question", ah ok, fair enough, by the looks of it we agree currently the only real difference between uber and local taxi firms it the potential for a supplier-customer relationship. and cost.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing or irrelevant. If it becomes the local firms usp vs uber then good luck to them, it may keep them competitive, it may even allow them to push up prices/profit.

I'm not saying black cabs or local taxi firms should burn, rather just let the market sort them out!

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Yes, but...

Technology changes society.

Yes it does, but some of those changes may not be entirely desirable, and in other cases may be actively undesirable*. It is not inherently unreasonable for anyone adversely affected, or who thinks they might be affected to say "hang on a mo..."

Get used to that.

*Some so obvious that they don't need listing here.

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Can't see why black cabs are under stricker controls than private hire (Uber or others) - if I get in any of them I want to know they're proper insured, had police background checks and the vehicle is 'fit for purpose' (so no VW's then !!).

The Knowledge or satnav - couldn't care less. If you phone for a private hire, they ask where you are and where you want to go, giving the driver time to shove the info into his/her satnav, if you hail a black cab, the driver has to know how to get to your destination off the top of his head. That's why they charge a premiun but with GPS apps like Waze, GPS users can see road works,diversions,slow moving traffic etc. and potentially gets you to your destination quicker.

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Hackneys are under stricter control than private hire because hackneys ply for trade. You get whatever random cab happens to be going past you and sees you waving at them, or whichever random cab happens to be at the front of the rank. With private hire you go through a booking system, which records the booking, the driver, and the passenger, even if that booking system is a single sole trader.

Personally, I'd go over to the Hong Kong system where every taxi is both a private hire and a hackney.

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Well one the booking system for mini-cabs doesn't record the passenger, they don't ask for my name let alone ask for id, and all the other private hire records uber already does, so no problem

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yeah ok on re-reading my comment maybe it does deserve that thumbs down.

While it is correct, passenger details generally aren't recorded by mini-cab firms, details about the journey are, so in worse case scenario - i.e kidnap, assault or robbery for example, evidence does exist.

This record doesn't exist for black cabs hence the want for tighter controls. However Uber is, I'd argue, better than minicabs for recording this info.

Also as the tech now exists for easy journey recording etc, then this should be rolled out to black cabs also. They system could be run by the local authority so black cabs can remain independent.This would mean better evidence recording etc for black cabs, they could even justify relaxing the black cab regulations

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Bring back the horses

Damn cabs have all but totally removed horse and carriages for hire from cities, the cabs should go. The horses employed far more people, supplied fertilizer, "beef" for the EU market, mystery meat for the international market and it turns out were not much slower as claimed by the motor maniacs demanding progress.

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SatNav Vs The Knowledge

Several people here have said they see no difference between a driver using SatNav and a black cab with The Knowledge.

Judging by (many) previous comments on these forums, I'd have thought the difference was quite clear: SatNavs get things wrong and people blindly trust them.

Cabbies may not be perfect, but one of the ways cabbies gain the knowledge is by repeatedly driving around the streets. That teaches you how the roadsreally are laid out - with all the little quirks that SatNav would never know about.

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Re: SatNav Vs The Knowledge

Loads of people - delivery drivers, street sweepers, long-time office workers - know their way around central London just as well as the black-cab drivers.

Really, whatever it may have been in the past, these days The Knowledge doesn't really exist as anything other than a variable-height barrier to entry; the only important question is 'who do you know?'. If the cabbies want to let you into their club - usually because you're a relation or friend of a current/former cabbie - then you'll get questions like 'what road is Camden Road station on?' If you have the temerity to show up as an outsider who's merely learnt every street and site in central London, you'll be asked things like 'which street in London has a tree next to a letterbox outside number 71?'

The cab cartel likes to quote stuff about the number of failures - something like 75% of 'tests' are 'failed', but what they don't like to be mentioned is that the people who ever pass almost all pass first time, whereas those who don't pass first time can come back for multiple goes over several years and still fail every time.

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Re: SatNav Vs The Knowledge

"If the cabbies want to let you into their club - usually because you're a relation or friend of a current/former cabbie - then you'll get questions like 'what road is Camden Road station on?' If you have the temerity to show up as an outsider who's merely learnt every street and site in central London, you'll be asked things like 'which street in London has a tree next to a letterbox outside number 71?'"

No...those aren't the sort of questions that you get asked. You are given a start and end point, and have to, pretty much without hesitation, describe a route between the two, detailing lane discipline/compliance, etc. Ideally you should be "on the cotton", i.e. if you stretched a line of thread between the two points on a map, your chosen route follows that straight line as closely as is practicable.

Through the Knowledge, the licensed cabbie will know every street within a 10 mile radius of Charing Cross, and the location of every hotel, embassy, and other significant building, plus a knowledge of the geography of Greater London. It's a pretty awesome thing, IMHO, and I think it's actually one of the great British institutions.

These guys literally spend years out there on the streets learning this stuff, and have my utmost respect

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Re: SatNav Vs The Knowledge

"No...those aren't the sort of questions that you get asked. You are given a start and end point, and have to, pretty much without hesitation, describe a route between the two, detailing lane discipline/compliance, etc. Ideally you should be "on the cotton", i.e. if you stretched a line of thread between the two points on a map, your chosen route follows that straight line as closely as is practicable."

Obviously, I wasn't being literal there. But you can get asked equivalents of those questions - it's entirely up to the examiner. Incidentally, cabbies aren't supposed to be 'on the cotton' unless that's also the fastest route somewhere.

There are other elements to the Knowledge as well. The points of interest that have to be memorised - well, not that hard to memorise a few hundred POIs anyway, but again, some of them are obscure, some are well-known, and the examiner gets to pick which he asks you about.

"Through the Knowledge, the licensed cabbie will know every street within a 10 mile radius of Charing Cross, and the location of every hotel, embassy, and other significant building, plus a knowledge of the geography of Greater London. "

It's not ten miles. Effectively they know the area inside Zone 1 pretty well, and that's about it bar the trunk roads outside that. Lots of Londoners can match them, as I said.

"These guys literally spend years out there on the streets learning this stuff"

No, that's the myth. The average time to pass The Knowledge for those who ever pass is under six months, including making all the appearances (which takes a few months minimum). The average time per applicant is a few years. That's because the whole thing's a scam, and many applicants never stand any chance of passing, however perfectly they know the Knowledge.

"I think it's actually one of the great British institutions."

Many people do. It's actually just an epic piece of marketing.

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Watch the astroturfers come trotting out to play...

You can spot them a mile off, because they're the ones repeatedly pushing a bunch of outright lies about Uber.

Just to clear up one of their favourite fibs, in London Uber drivers are fully insured, fully licensed, and regulated just like every other minicab, including safety checks on the vehicles and police checks on the drivers. You can't hail one on the street, but you can call one, just like any other minicab.

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Doesn't matter

The rights and wrongs and legal definitions are not really important. In the end, black cabs haven't a chance because nobody likes them.

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Anonymous Coward

Insurance

Knowing the cost of insurance for private hire, I doubt the majority of Uber drivers are insured correctly, they'd have to carry plenty of fares just to cover the insurance.

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Re: Insurance

"Knowing the cost of insurance for private hire, I doubt the majority of Uber drivers are insured correctly, they'd have to carry plenty of fares just to cover the insurance."

Easy to spot an astroturfer. Uber checks drivers have valid insurance. And amazingly enough, not that many fares need to be carried - that's how every other cab manages to pay it despite getting less business than Uber cabs.

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Re: Insurance

Indeed it is easy to spot the astroturfer.

"valid insurance" and "Private Hire insurance" are not the same thing. The "check" engaged by Uber (certainly the check engaged on this side of the pond) is a photocopy/scan of a piece of paper.

Uber's famous "we carry $1 million of liability" statement needs to be read in context of the fine print at the end of the contract you signed when you downloaded the app. Over here, that $1 million of liability has vanished outright in at least 4 cases that I've read of, where in the Uber driver was *not* carrying private hire insurance. These cases are now in court as lawsuits.

I, having BEEN a cab driver at one time in my past, can state that private hire insurance is on the order of 7 to 12 times more expensive than standard everyday driver insurance.

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Re: Insurance

""valid insurance" and "Private Hire insurance" are not the same thing."

Yes, of course they are, if you're operating a cab. Don't be silly.

"private hire insurance is on the order of 7 to 12 times more expensive than standard everyday driver insurance."

And yet, regular minicabs exist in plentitude here. Your ridiculous strawman is particularly obvious.

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London's iconic black cabs were at risk of disappearing from the capital's streets because of Uber

Thank Christ, bring it on

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Uber wants to have it both ways in London

It doesn't want to have to bear the costs of hackney carriage licensing, yet it wants to provide a service that it materially equivalent to ply-for-hire.

And it wants to be treated as a private hire service, but won't perform the one part of a private hire service that users can't get from black cabs: advanced bookings (and therefore an ability to rely on them to, say, get to the airport or a morning meeting or Sunday football).

Time for them to shit or get off the pot, I say.

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I'm in favour of Uber and similar services being properly regulated as regards wages and vetting of drivers. These particular proposals, however, don't achieve that and are purely artificial punishment for being better.

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