Uber squares up against London taxi rule changes

The proposed rules would throttle Uber in the UK capital city, but the controversial car hire service isn't going down without a fight.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Uber says accepting proposed changes to London's private car hire regulations would result in the "end of Uber" across the city.

The controversial private car hire service has faced criticism and challenges worldwide. Currently locked in legal battles from Paris to China, Uber's mobile app-based booking service for private hire vehicles threatens the state of traditional taxi services.

While some would argue this simply represents the evolution and progression of such services thanks to mobile technology, governments and agencies worldwide have reacted by trying to stamp it out.

London is now the latest city to turn its attention to Uber's potential impact on local registered taxi services. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the UK's Transport for London (TFL) is planning an overhaul of private car hire rules and regulations -- which is unlikely to work in Uber's favor.

The documents, reviewed by the publication, set out TFL's "new vision for the future of the taxi and the private hire trade." The proposed rule changes include an English language requirement for drivers, a compulsory five-minute wait between order and pick up, and a ban on companies visibly showing available cars on their mobile applications.

While the changes also include stricter driver requirements, insurance and geographical exams, the app ban is the rule change which is likely to impact on Uber the most.

Effectively, London cabbies will be held to a higher standard, but Uber will be unable to operate in the UK's capital city -- unless the company finds a way to circumvent the wording of the rules.

The proposed rules will be laid out Wednesday in a consultation, in which parties deemed affected by the changes -- such as stakeholders -- will be given 12 weeks to respond.

TFL insists the rule changes have been proposed to improve passenger safety. The delay, for example, will "reduce the risk of a customer getting into the wrong car." The delay will no doubt cost taxi drivers -- whether traditional or not -- time and money, but it seems London got off easy. If some of those consulted had their way, you'd be waiting in the cold for a taxi for between 15 and 30 minutes, or potentially longer.

Unfortunately for Uber, it is the rapidity of pickups which is a major selling point. Book and wait, often in a matter of minutes as you are relying on local drivers, and off you go. If forced to delay, this could cost drivers extra revenue and do little more than annoy users -- who may then turn to the black cabbie instead.

In an email, Uber said that while black cab drivers are feeling the pressure due to modern taxi and private car hire services, the proposed rules "make no sense," and if accepted, the new rules marked the "end of the Uber you know and love."

However, Uber is not going down without a fight. The company has asked customers to sign a petition challenging the new rules. Hosted online, the petition has almost reached 70,000 signatures at the time of writing.

In brighter news for Uber, the Australian Capital Territory's government has said Canberra will become the first area in Australia which will not fight against the evolution of private car hire Uber represents -- and will instead allow Uber to operate lawfully in a regulated manner.

Safari browser extensions you never knew you needed

Read on: Top picks

Editorial standards