Taxi drivers (black cab drivers) in London are right now on strike. Not against the government, not against Transport for London, but against apps. Yes, mobile apps.
Taxi fares in London are some of the most expensive in the world (you can quote me on this). And due to the iconic nature of the the black cabs, their drivers are a protected species of some sort.
The industry is being disrupted, rightly, by phone apps. These phone apps make it easy to get a cheaper taxi service no matter where you are in the city. First it was Addison Lee, the largest private cab company in London, that went mainstream with their application. I've blogged previously on how Addison Lee embraced this innovation and it was paying off handsomely.
Then with the help of Hailo, a black cab app, the black cab drivers seemed to be fighting back. I use Hailo a lot and the general feeling among the drivers was that it was helping them 'win back the work'.
Which now leads me to why the taxi drivers are protesting. Hailo recently decided to add private cab companies to their platform thus ending any exclusive agreement with the black cabs. Cue bedlam. Black cab drivers were incensed. Just when they thought they could relax again, Hailo is pulling the rug off their feet. And they don't like it one bit.
To top it up, Uber the american taxi company (no longer a start up) have chosen this time to do a big launch in London. Further incensing the drivers.
So what is the way forward?
I've got sympathy for the drivers. They've all signed up to becoming a black cab driver with all its attendant costs and requirements. Those black cabs are not cheap. They used to cost up to £35k. The newer Mercedes model costs a bit less. But still more expensive than those of private cab companies. And then the cost of their licence with TfL. Not forgetting the exams they have to write to qualify to be a driver.
However, cab prices everywhere is coming down. They have to do something about this. The Mayor and the TfL should work with the drivers on the huge costs of a black cab. That is probably the only way forward. Any regulation of private cab companies will be delaying the inevitable.
Technology has never been the central issue here. As I explained above the drivers have also embraced it and it is working for them. Also as a gesture of goodwill Uber has also decided to add black cabs to their platform.
Technology, disrupting industries since time immemorial.