Thousands of cab drivers headed toward London’s Trafalgar Square today to protest Uber and other mobile ride-hailing companies, whose largely unregulated services compete with one of the world’s most heavily regulated industries.
But Uber is trying to capitalize on the situation by launching a tempting offering for angry taxi drivers this morning: UberTaxi.
The new ride option enables folks to hail and pay for a black cab through the Uber app. The pricing structure adheres to standard three-tier fare rates established by the Transport for London agency. Riders won’t pay any additional charges, while Uber caps the commission drivers must pay at 5%.
While brand new to London, the UberTaxi offering is already available in Washington D.C., New York City, Honolulu, and Sydney.
It’s unclear if the new London offering will placate the protesting cab drivers, but it’s undoubtedly a blow to Hailo, which also enables folks to hail licensed cabs through its app. Uber says its 5% commission is the lowest in the city.
Uber expects initial UberTaxi availability to be “very limited” due to high demand. The protests may help with that: Uber app downloads in the region are up 850% compared to last Wednesday, according to Uber’s Jo Bertram, general manager for U.K. and Ireland.
The protests are causing major gridlock in central London. Some observers are estimating as much as £125 million in lost revenue as a result of the traffic.
ITV News captured this footage of a long line of black taxis blocking Westminster Bridge.
London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, is sympathetic to the concerns of the taxi drivers.
“There must … be a place for new technology to work in harmony with the black cab, and we shouldn’t unnecessarily restrict new ideas that are of genuine benefit to Londoners,” he said. “Even so, the recent emergence of a range of new apps has raised some important questions in relation to the operation of the private hire and taxi trades.”
Uber has faced some regulatory challenges — it’s currently battling more than a dozen lawsuits — but that hasn’t stopped the transportation company from attaining a record-breaking $17 billion valuation after its recent $1.2 billion funding round.