Boris Johnson has weighed in on the debate raging about the ride-hailing app Uber in London, writing in The Telegraph that the company is “systematically” breaking the law.
Last week, London regulator TfL published a series of strict new rules for private hire services, many of which appear to be targeting Uber. The Californian company is also in the High Court this week, over whether the app can be considered a “taximeter” — and is, therefore, breaking the law.
Since its launch in 2009, Uber has courted global controversy. It has expanded aggressively around the world, disrupting the established taxi in the process and attracting hundreds of lawsuits. In the US alone, it has faced 173 lawsuits since October 2012.
London mayor Boris Johnson has now criticised the company in his weekly column for The Telegraph in an article entitled “Uber is doing a terrific job — but it has to play by the rules.”
Johnson writes that “at present that law is being systematically broken — or at least circumvented — by the use of the Uber app.” He argues that “the law says that only black cabs may stand or ply for hire in the streets, and only black cabs can be hailed in the streets,” but that the app “is allowing private hire vehicles to behave like black taxis: to be hailed, to ply for hire in the streets, to do exactly what the law says they are not supposed to do.”
Uber denies the accusation: A spokesperson told Business Insider that “in the UK Uber is fully licensed and regulated and abides by all private hire legislation. Uber’s model has been scrutinised not only by TfL, but by over 25 other regulators and found to be compliant.”
Johnson says that deregulation isn’t the answer. “That would mean the end of any real distinction between black cabs and private hire vehicles, and the effective end of the black cab trade. I hear no one in government advocating this, not least since many people don’t have apps, and greatly value the black cabs.”
Instead, he calls for “a balance that allows a coexistence.” Until then, “we must uphold the existing and long-standing legal distinctions between black cabs and minicabs.”
TfL’s proposals for private hire services in London include introducing mandatory five-minute wait times before vehicles can arrive, banning animated taxi icons on apps, and requiring drivers to only work for one company at a time.
Uber has responded angrily, launching a petition arguing that “the answer is to level the playing field by reducing today’s burdensome black cab regulations — not to introduce rules that will be bad for riders, drivers and London.” It has been signed almost 130,000 times since its launch last Tuesday, although it doesn’t verify email addresses — meaning fake signatures can be added.