Furious London Cabbies Protested Against Uber Yesterday

They managed to bring the centre of the city to a standstill.

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12 June 2014, 11:20am

On Wednesday afternoon, hordes of pissed-off London cabbies gathered together in Trafalgar Square to rage against TfL and the scourge of Uber, a smartphone taxi app that they say is ruining their lives. Founded in 2009, Uber basically hooks you up with any drivers who happen to be roaming around the local area, and it's pretty cheap, meaning that once you have it it's easy to delude yourself into thinking you're posh enough to get cabs all the time.

Sounds pretty good, right? Well, the cabbies don’t think so. They're pissed off because TfL licensed Uber as a private hire car company but Uber doesn't exactly act like one, given that they calculate their fares based on time and mileage – not so different from black cab meters. Private hire car companies are also annoyed. The Licensed Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA) say Uber isn't adhering to private car hire rules either, because they don’t record bookings or have a satellite office.

The plan for the cabbies' protest was to drive, en masse, to an area of London so slowly that it was brought to a standstill. Oh, and then beep their horns loads just to emphasise how fucking annoying the whole thing was. This isn’t a new tactic; cabbies tried a similar thing back in 2012. European taxi drivers got on board too, causing strike mayhem in Paris, Madrid and Berlin, and last week, US taxi drivers expressed their frustrations, too.

Things were just starting to get going – or stopping – when we arrived at 1.30PM. As more black cabs arrived, we watched as the area around Trafalgar Square got more and more congested. It was fucking riveting.

There were people with banners, signs and a lot of high-vis. These guys were from RMT, the Transport Trade Union. They shouted things like, “Boris! Boris Boris! Out! Out! Out!” through their mega-phones.

Mick Walker, 63. Cab driver for 34 years.

Vice: What are you doing here today?
Mick: We’re complaining about TfL. They’re not enforcing their own laws that are there to protect the public and the people that they license. As a result, it puts those of us that are actually obeying those laws at a disadvantage.

And what rules are they? The one I’ve read about is the mileage system and how Uber are calculating their fares.
Everyone seems to think it’s about Uber and it isn’t. Uber is a symptom, TfL is the disease. If Uber want to comply to the rules that are in place, then it’s fine. We welcome legitimate competition.

What do you hope to get from the protest today?
We hope to persuade TfL to do their job properly. They drafted their own private hire act in 1998 and they’re not enforcing it. Leon Daniels [TfL's Managing Director] is on £600,000 a year; there’s 370 people on £100,000 a year in TfL, and they can’t interpret their own act. They’re not fit for purpose.

So it’s not about having competition?
No, it’s to do with unfair competition. If the private hire industry, including Uber, obey the laws that’s fine, but they don’t. The media seem to think this is all about taxis not wanting unfair competition from Uber but the LPHCA, our competition, are actually supporting us today. Because it’s about TfL and they’re as unhappy with them as we are.

Then we spotted a man dressed as a banana. Actually, we heard him first, weaving through the congestion chanting, “Boris is a twaaa-AT, Boris is a twaaa-AT!” Obviously it was imperative that we talk to him.

VICE: Who are you?
Banana: My name is Peter Penfold. I’m The Banana Man of the London taxi drivers and I raise money for the charity, Kids Integrated Cancer Treatment (KICT).

What’s The Banana Man?
Basically, all the taxi drivers support the children with cancer so I’m out here today supporting their cause as well. Unfortunately, Boris Johnson and all them don’t really give a shit, SHIT, they don’t give a shit about the working man and they don’t give a damn about anything to do with kids with cancer. These hard-working cab drivers have supported our cause, so I’m here today to support them now.

The police tried blocking off parts of the roundabout to ease congestion. At one point, a stealthy knowledge boy (those guys who ride around on scooters with maps, training to be cabbies) managed to nudge through them.

The traffic was basically at a standstill by this point. But eventually the police seemed to give up on being human-barricades.

We spoke to Bill, a cab driver for 12 years. He didn’t want his picture taken but here’s a journalist wearing Google Glass instead.

VICE: Hi Bill, what’s going on here?
Bill: This is all about TfL’s failure to implement the private hire act. We’ve been forced into a corner by Boris Johnson and, in particular, Peter Hendy. What did he get his knighthood for? For services to London transport in the 7/7 attacks and the Olympics. Well hang on, he messed up the Olympics because it was gridlocked and secondly, he got paid for his work during the 7/7 attacks. Licensed taxi drivers worked for free, we didn’t benefit from a terrible act. Where’s my knighthood?!

And what about Boris?
Boris, in his infinite wisdom, has chosen to get into bed with corporate America. The biggest problem with the whole thing is that people in this area don’t realise that it's not about Uber, it’s about corporate America taking over Britain by stealth and not paying into the exchequer.

What do you think about Uber?
Uber are registered in Holland so what legal right do they have to be registered as a private hire company when it doesn’t actually have any private hire vehicles? They are not a private hire company. We pay our fair whack – fuel duty, taxes on our vehicles, VAT. They don’t. Do we, the 26,000 cab drivers, register themselves as businesses in Holland to avoid tax and fiddle the system? It seems like it’s fairly simple to do.

As the honking got really loud, this guy began shouting out of his window because of the beeping in his “fucking ears”. For some reason he didn't seem too hyped about being trapped in his van on a blisteringly hot day in central London, surrounded by noisy people on mopeds.

After the protest, I contacted Uber to see what they had to say for themselves. UK & Ireland General Manager, Jo Bertram said, “We passed TfL’s most stringent and comprehensive audit of a Private Hire Vehicle operator to date, passing with flying colours.” Their closing statement was even better: “We are proud to be to be in London, we are proud to serve London and we are here to stay. Uber on, London!” 

It’s now down to the High Court to decide in the coming months whether Uber are acting outside of the law. Regardless, Uber have cashed in big on yesterday’s priceless exposure – they’ve reported an 850 percent increase in sign-ups since last Wednesday. What’s more, they’ve added black cabs to their fleet of cars, inviting cabbies to join them. That’s going to go down well.

@chemsquier

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