Uber, a taxi-style ride sharing service, has been popping up in cities all over the world this year. Unfortunately it’s brought a storm of controversy and protest along with it. Uber allows anyone to quickly book a ride in a car via a smartphone app. Customers can choose exactly where they want to go, when they want to be picked up and can even chose from three types of vehicles, each increasing in luxury. In many ways it’s a more sophisticated way of booking a taxi, with enhancements such as GPS tracking of their hired vehicle and cashless payments all done via the app.
However, as Uber classes itself as a ride sharing service, it isn’t subject to the same rules as official taxi services, which are usually heavily regulated in inner-city areas. For example in New York City, taxicab drivers must own expensive and rare medallions to operate, and so usually rent cars from larger companies that can afford the licences. Uber bypasses these requirements completely, as it is just a network of independent drivers with approved cars who receive a cut of Uber’s earnings through the app. This can harm the livelihoods of taxicab drivers as customers are given more choice when looking for their taxi ride and sometimes find Uber to be a cheaper alternative. The service is so controversial that several countries have threatened to ban Uber, unless they conform to the relevant taxi legislation. The Australian government has begun fining Uber drivers, Belgium has outright banned the service and several US states have done the same. England has not escaped its fair share of Uber problems. In June this year, cab drivers in central London staged a massive traffic slow-down in protest against the service. They argued that, as the Uber app calculates a price based upon distance, driver’s phones act as taxi meters. This contradicts the law that only Hackney Carriage drivers are allowed to operate taxi meters in London. Transport for London have added fuel to the fire, suggesting the app is perfectly legal, while Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is simply unsure. Is Uber doomed to fail under the law, or will it bring upon us a new era of taxi services? For the moment it’s certainly clear that Uber has a long way to go before it settles all of its legal issues.