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London cab strike: competition is good as long as it’s fair

Taxit in London

Black cab drivers have strong reason to voice their disappointment at the gross difference in operation regulations between themselves and minicab companies. They are forced to comply with various mandatory regulations, such as buying expensive vehicles that have to be wheelchair accessible, taking the ‘Knowledge’ test and having a visible metre.

While these groups are over-regulated, their counterparts can operate with light touch regulations leading to market distortion. Strikes however, are also damaging the trade, and TfL should have engaged more with their concerns before they feel more strike action is needed. But cabbies do not earn a salary; it is their own time and income that they are sacrificing to make their causes heard.

The four to five year ‘Knowledge’ test synonymous with the London cabbie is a valuable exercise, enabling the driver to take their passenger to their desired destination through lesser known streets to avoid inevitable congestion. On the other hand, the minicab standards require only a few days worth of study.

There is a considerable gulf between the understanding of London’s roads by new black cab drivers and the standards laid down to operate as a minicab driver. Where competition means that earnings are severely under pressure, it will not be an economical decision to undergo such a long test in the future. If we want to maintain a top-rate London taxi service, the ‘Knowledge’ needs to be reformed and equally minicab standards raised.

Technology, in particular mobile technology, is making our lives easier day to day, particularly our transport around London. In this day and age, our taxi transport system must embrace it, and it is imperative for taxi drivers to work alongside technology to move forward.

We are already working with nearly 7,000 licensed black cabs drivers, who realise the competition posed, but most importantly, also use technology as a tool to reach a growing consumer base. It is mobile technology that is allowing black cabs considerable opportunities as well as providing the customer with a superior booking service.

In the future, technology will enable taxis to give more price efficient journeys. As with other providers, the cost of the journey undertaken has different values dependent on time of day, demand and traffic congestion levels. Technology allows us to give fixed prices, allowing drivers to make economic decisions on cheaper fares.

There are great opportunities for the black taxi trade and they will continue to command a certain premium for a better service. In particular technology is allowing us to compete for corporate work. Sophisticated companies value the high driving standards, unrivalled safety record and access to bus lanes in order to reach their destinations on time.

Taking all this into consideration, there are opportunities for black cabs to compete alongside the minicab services. The cabbies we work with understand that technology is helping to evolve the taxi industry for the good but with the regulations being applied unevenly, they are prevented from competing on a level playing field.

Remo Gerber is UK CEO of Gett