Taxi bylaw: Surge pricing plan leaves ‘customers exposed,’ cab firm head says as politicos endorse bylaw changes
Nov. 7, 2016
By Patrick Maloney
City politicians have endorsed changes to London’s taxi bylaw, a contentious step that will regulate Uber and the other digital dispatchers upending the traditional cab industry.
Uber and other so-called transportation network companies operate illegally in London - having not complied with city hall’s longstanding taxi regulations. So far, 74 charges have been laid against 39 of its drivers.
Monday, however, council’s community and protective services committee endorsed changes that would bring firms such as Uber under its regulatory tent - oversight city officials say is crucial to protect consumers and ensure public safety.
Perhaps most notable: politicians supported allowing unlimited surge pricing, which lets drivers jack up rates at busy times. Until now, the city has set a starting fare (or “drop rate”) of $3.50 with a set cost depending on the ride’s length.
Surge pricing also would be allowed for traditional cabbies, like those driving for Yellow London Taxi. It could prove lucrative.
But taxi officials say they’re unhappy with the change.
“It’s absolutely wrong because there’s no regulation,” said Hasan Savehilaghi, president of Yellow London Taxi that has 150 vehicles on city streets. “It doesn’t do customers any good.”
Many customers hailing cabs after 9 p.m. have no idea what they’re doing because they’re under the influence of alcohol, he said. “Customers are exposed.”
If approved by council, the bylaw changes would take effect in March 2017. Among other proposed updates:
Though traditional cabs must have them for security purposes, so-called private vehicles for hire - Uber drivers - wouldn’t need them. That’s part of what Savehilaghi calls a “double standard” from the city.
All vehicles for hire - traditional cabs and people using personal cars part-time for Uber or Lyft - need to have “a valid commercial (insurance) policy protecting the public and passengers in the amount of $2 million.”
City hall would drop rules requiring vehicles be no older than a certain age (it’s been set at four years) when starting as a taxi. The exit age, when they can no longer be used, remains eight years.
Politicians on Monday asked city staff to come back in January with more information on proposed fees for transportation network companies like Uber.
Staff wanted to charge the firms based on their number of vehicles (1-100 would cost $5,000; 101-500 would cost $10,000) then collect 50 cents a ride.
The problem? The city has no idea how many riders Uber and others like it have, so there’s no way to know whether that would collect enough - or far too much - to cover the costs of enforcing the bylaws.
City staff will report back in January.