Uber is trying to get more black cabbies on board.
The ride-hailing app is offering to let London’s iconic taxi drivers use its app to find passengers for free for one year. It will waive its regular 5% fee on rides for new drivers, and will revert to that once the year is up.
It’s an interesting move from Uber. For starters, it is striking a (unusually) conciliatory tone in its announcement. Much like in numerous other cities around the world, the established taxi industry in London has furiously resisted Uber’s growth.
Last month, Transport for London (London’s transport regulator) dropped a series of proposals for new restrictions on private hire services that were widely perceived as targeting Uber and other ride-hailing apps. These included a mandatory five-minute wait time, and a pre-booking requirement (although it will still require that drivers speak English).
The LTDA, a London taxi industry body, is now considering suing Uber over its UK tax rate, with an eye to having its licence to operate in the city revoked.
Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber has previously been outspoken about the established taxi industry. “We didn’t realise it, but we’re in this political campaign, and the candidate is Uber, and the opponent is an a–hole named taxi,” he said at the Re/code tech conference in 2014. “We have to bring out the truth about how dark and how dangerous and evil the taxi side of things is.”
But in a blog post published Tuesday as part of the announcement, Jo Bertram — Uber’s general manager in the UK — is far more positive about taxis. “We believe black cabs and Uber can coexist,” she writes, adding: “As even the most avid Uber users know, there are many times when a black cab is the fastest and best option because it is literally right there on the street in front of you. There is zero waiting time and you can whizz along the bus lane.”
As well as being a positive PR move — London’s black cabs are an iconic part of the city’s landscape — it also suggests that Uber is keen to bring the established taxi market under its umbrella.
If some black cabbies put aside their misgivings about Uber, then they may find the app becomes indispensable by the end of the year — and decide they’re willing to let Uber take its 5% fee.
To paraphrase an old adage: If you can’t beat them, get them to join you.
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