Economy, Sci & Tech

London Scrutinizes Uber Application

London Scrutinizes Uber ApplicationLondon Scrutinizes Uber Application

London's transport chiefs announced plans on Wednesday to tighten control on private hire vehicles, a move that could hit app-based ride-hailing firms such as Uber.

Drivers of the city's famous black cabs have argued Uber bypasses local licensing and safety laws and amounts to unfair competition. They have staged a number of high-profile protests, including go-slow demonstrations that have brought traffic in the center of London to a standstill, Reuters reports.

A protest earlier this month at London's City Hall led to a scuffle that resulted in arrests for assault and aggravated trespass, and the suspension of a meeting where Mayor Boris Johnson was answering questions.

"In recent years, the private hire industry has grown exponentially and technology has also developed rapidly," said Garrett Emmerson from Transport for London, which has issued proposals that will now go out for a 12-week consultation.

Under the plans, firms would have to provide a booking confirmation at least five minutes before a journey starts and that would allow cabs to be booked up to seven days in advance.

They could not show vehicles for immediate hire via an app and must specify the fare prior to the booking being accepted.

"These bureaucratic new rules will not improve your ride," said Jo Bertram, Uber's regional general manager, UK, Ireland and Nordics. An online petition set up by Uber against the proposals has already attracted 86,000 signatures.

Unlike black cabs, which can be flagged down in the street and use a meter to calculate fares, San Francisco-based Uber, backed by heavyweight investors, including Goldman Sachs and Google, allows customers to book and pay for a taxi using an app on their smartphones.

Uber has provoked a backlash in cities across the globe, with the mayor of Rio de Janeiro saying on Tuesday he would ban its use in the city while a taxi drivers' protest jammed the center of Bratislava on Monday.

The European Commission has launched a study of Uber to address a number of legal disputes, including German and Spanish court bans and a new French law on taxis.