Anti-Uber protests have brought European cities, including London, to a standstill today, as traditional taxi and limo firms block the roads in anger around how the on-demand car service has disrupted the market. Over 30,000 drivers clogged the streets in London, Madrid, Paris, and other locations, demanding that regulators step in and clamp down on techie upstarts like Uber. Meanwhile, Uber itself is trying to sweeten the deal with the broader roll-out of UberTAXI.
UberTAXI, launched in London today, offers traditional black cab companies a way to get in on the on-demand action. As with the existing UberX and other services, it lets smartphone users flag down a cab digitally, paying for their journey through Uber’s system rather than in cash or an in-taxi credit card machine.
London already has a number of similar systems, using phone apps to contact and track a nearby cab, but Uber argues that its rates – 5-percent commission paid by drivers from the fare – are the most competitive in the city.
It’s not the first time Uber has used such a system to try to assuage the complaints of existing cab firms. In San Francisco, for instance, UberTAXI already offers a way to get a regular cab through the app. Passengers pay the meter fare, as well as a fixed booking fee.
However, it may take more than that to keep the cab drivers happy. One of the key complaints is that Uber is unlicensed, and as such there’s none of the expensive training and certification that regular taxi drivers must go through.
Of course the protests themselves are likely to be a PR coup of sorts for Uber, though the threat of regulators actually wading in and clamping down on regular drivers signing up to UberX and offering private hire rides is a real one. Still, there’s a short-term benefit, certainly: Uber says downloads of its app increased 850-percent today.
Earlier this month, Uber raised a new round of funding which valued the company at $17bn.
Update: You can’t accuse Uber of not taking advantage of the situation, announcing a temporary 50% cut on ride pricing in Paris while the protests are underway.