Tag Archives: Uber

‘Taxi Wars’ as Uber arrives

From The Argus

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Taxi wars are set to take hold of Brighton and Hove as Uber hits the city today.

The controversial taxi-hailing app will launch in the city at 4pm Friday 28th October.

It comes as Southern Taxis – which runs Brighton and Hove cab company City Cabs – launches its own mobile phone app also enabling passengers to hail cabs with a click from their phone.

It is set to spark a price-cutting war between the two firms as Uber drivers set their own prices and can undercut competing Hackney Carriage cabs.

Both apps will enable customers to pay by card and track their vehicles’ arrivals on a map.

Uber was given the green light to roll out across the city last October after four days of deliberation by Brighton and Hove City Council.

Uber’s private hire vehicles are distinct from hackney carriages in that they must be booked in advance. They cannot ply for hire in the street, wait at cab ranks or be hailed by passers-by.

But that means they can set their own prices.

The introduction of Uber is set to spark a price war amongst the city’s taxis. Whilst Hackney Carriage cabs have to charge a set tariff of prices ranging from £2.80 to £5.60 for the first 320 yards and any subsequent 160 yards.

Most of the city’s existing private hire cabs also charge the same rates – meaning Uber could bring in stiff competition.

Fred Jones, Uber’s general manager in Brighton, said: “We are a smart phone app through which you can book licensed private hire vehicles.

“There are lots of cool features to improve safety. You can see a picture of the man or woman coming to pick you up and the make and model of the car and the registration details so you can be 100 per cent sure they are background checked.

“In Brighton the private hire companies run off the Hackney Carriage fares. This is one of the only places where private hire rates aren’t cheaper so it’s really exciting to be introducing that level of competition.

The company was only granted its licence by the council’s licensing committee on the grounds that they abide by all the conditions in the Blue Book – a set of guidelines for the local cab trade.

All Uber drivers will have to hold the same licence as any other private hire driver, which includes a check by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), successor to the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).

Uber has always stated they want to be treated the same as every other operator in the city and they will only be allowed to send Brighton and Hove-registered drivers to pick up customers.

The launch of the app also means that licensed drivers already working in the city will be able to move over to working for Uber.

Neither of the city’s two biggest existing taxi companies City Cabs or Streamline wished to comment on the launch of Uber.

In relation to their new rival app Andy Cheesman, managing director of Southern Taxis, said: “As a local, independent company, we are delighted to launch this new app which means our customers can now pay for their journey by debit or credit card while also taking cash and account bookings.

“In addition, it also means they can see the exact whereabouts of their taxi so this will improve waiting times. “Finally, and most importantly, when they use the app to book a taxi, they can do so in the knowledge that all our drivers are DBS checked and all our taxis have state-of-the-art CCTV.”

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Objections made to Uber’s application to operate taxis in Brighton and Hove

From Brighton & Hove News

A catalogue of strong objections have been made to a bid by the smartphone app Uber to operate taxis in Brighton and Hove, despite concerns the company could sue the city council if it is rejected.

A Brighton taxi by Mic on FlickrEstablished taxi firms say Uber’s record of employing uninsured drivers, intimidation and touting at Gatwick Airport, no way of requesting a wheelchair friendly car, raising prices during crises including a terror attack and tax dodging makes them unfit to hold the licence.

But the licensing panel, which will consider the application next Monday, has been cautioned not to rely on hearsay when deciding whether to approve it.

And a mystery objector, whose name has been redacted, warns that now taxi operators are able to serve customers outside the authority which issued their licence, Uber will simply be able to bypass Brighton and Hove City Council in any case.

The report to the committee makes it clear that officers do not have enough experience with applications from online operators to be able to make a firm recommendation.

However, it makes it clear that a taxi operator is a position of responsibility, as they are privy to information such as when houses are left empty or when older children might be left alone.

It said: “It is therefore vital that operators are as trustworthy and reliable as a driver, notwithstanding their slightly remote role. There is no reason why a condition cannot be imposed on the PHO licence requiring them to undertake checks (for instance enhanced DBS checks and training) on those they employ/use within their company to satisfy themselves that they are fit and proper people to undertake that task, and retain that information that they obtain to demonstrate that compliance to the local authority.”

The report then says concerns about how Uber has operated in Europe and the USA cannot be taken into account, as there are different laws there. It notes Transport for London’s high court case over whether the smartphone app can be considered a taximeter, which are prohibited in private hire vehicles in London.

However, Brighton and Hove makes meters a requirement of a private hire vehicle licence, so if the High Court rules the app is a meter, this could be a sticking point.

In respect of concerns over Uber’s tax arrangements, it says HMRC is satisfied so that cannot be taken into account.

It says there is not enough firm evidence of allegations of nuisance at airports to affect the application. Likewise, allegations of data protection breaches appear without any hard evidence, although it would be legitimate to question Uber about them.

And it does say Uber would need to demonstrate it had a robust method for checking drivers are insured, and that the question of providing wheelchair accessible vehicles can be raised, although new operators generally don’t have to provide them until they have a sizeable fleet.

It warns: “Many allegations have been made, but it is important to differentiate those that relate to matters abroad and are often multiple hearsay and those within a domestic environment. Within the domestic environment, much again is hearsay and should be treated with extreme caution. It is noted that TFL and numerous other local authorities have licenced Uber.

“This would suggest (but is not definitive) that they have not uncovered any concerns about the operating company that would mean that they are not fit and proper.

“Given that all English authorities licence using the same basic principles, this has to be noted if we are to look at Uber in its widest context.”

Dave Smith, chairman of Brighton and Hove Streamline, pointed out apparent double standards in terms of regulations his taxi company is required to comply with which he believes the council is considering waiving for Uber.

He said: “A fit and proper person would recognize the role of livery, the need to comply with equality/disability requirements, data protection and criminal checks and would explain to you how they have dealt with or intend to deal with such issues.

“Uber has not confronted these concerns and cannot answer these criticisms. If they are unaware of these concerns or have chosen to ignore these concerns, they are not a fit or proper person to hold an operator’s licence.”

He added: “In your briefing document you suggested that the financial clout of Uber could result in expensive litigation but at that stage you should get legal advice and until such application is determined the Magistrates Court to which Uber would need to appeal should be a no costs forum.”

Coun Mary Mears also wrote to object, saying: “Serious concerns have also been raised regarding equalities, practically for disable users. Uber do not regard themselves as a Taxi company and refer to themselves as a third party taxi booking service.

“They state they are NOT a “transport provider.” They are in fact a phone app. If CCTV data from Uber vehicle is required (a condition of licensing under Brighton and Hove) how will this data be collected?

“I do understand concerns raised by local authorities, as Uber is owned by a multi-million pound company, and the threat of being sued is a real concern, but I feel as a council our duty is to protect the most vulnerable, by refusing a license.”

Letters were also received from Andy Cheesman of City Cabs, the Licensed Private Hire Cars Association and GMB.

However, a letter whose sender has been redacted, as they fear “intimidation and bullying … by the [taxi] cartel” dismisses all the concerns, saying they’re either misplaced or can be addressed in licence requirements.

They add: ” Only a fool will believe that Uber will pack up their bags and go away should the council reject their application. Instead they will try and license in Lewes, in Adur, in Mid-Sussex, or possibly them all.

“They will get a local license to operate somewhere, and that will leave the local B&H trade and the council with the worst possible outcome. In respect of the trade, we will see yet more local Brighton and Hove work being lost to vehicles licensed elsewhere.

“That work which would have gone to Brighton and Hove licensed vehicles will instead be given (quite legally) to non Brighton and Hove licensed vehicles and drivers. I’m frankly amazed the likes of the GMB don’t understand that obvious outcome should the council reject the Uber application.

“But it’s not just the Brighton and Hove drivers that would lose out, the council itself will be left with a situation of dozens of Uber vehicles working the city with the council unable to check or enforce any of them. Is that really what we want?

“Do the council really want residents and visitors of our city being told ‘it’s nothing to do with me’ should they wish to make a complaint to B&H council about a Uber vehicle? Is this what any of us want post Rotherham?”