How Uber seized media high ground amid cab protest
Traditional taxi drivers went on strike this week in protest against the alternative, app-driven service – but it looks like their actions have backfired
Cabbies may have grabbed media attention by bringing central London to a standstill this week – but it was some clever timing by their opponents that ultimately made the most of London’s black-taxi protest.
On Wednesday, cab drivers staged demonstrations across Europe in protest at the emergence of new, tech-savvy cab services. The main focus of their anger was Uber: a Goldman Sachs-backed app that automatically works out the fare for your journey. Traditional black cab drivers claim that this amounts to a meter, which only they are legally allowed to use – at least, according to Transport for London (TfL) regulations.
The protest left large parts of central London blocked with traffic for hours, as thousands of taxi drivers held up the streets. Steve McNamara from the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) said: “We did not set out to cause disruption to Londoners … some of the taxis have been using apps for years. The difference is all taxis have to operate legally [and Uber] should have to apply for the same rules as everyone else.” Black cab driver Bernie Doyle added: “I've been driving 42 years and I’m not about to see my trade go down the pan.” The LTDA also raised concerns on other areas – for example, alleging that drivers in the Uber loop go through inadequate training.
Uber decided to face the protest head on, and their PR and marketing chiefs did their best to ensure that the service made the most of the ensuing coverage. Uber UK and Ireland general manager Jo Bertram said: “We recognise the unique heritage and value of traditional black cabs when it comes to getting around … UberTAXI is another way of using technology to offer more choice, making life simpler and keeping London moving.” Later in the day, Bertram announced that the situation had been a resounding success for Uber, confirming: “today we’re seeing an 850% increase in signups compared to last Wednesday. The results are clear: London wants Uber in a big way.”
Uber may be a comparatively a new service, founded only five years ago, but it now operates across the globe and recent valuation placed the company’s worth at $18.2 billion. In recent years – particularly in the US – it has run a number of headline-grabbing gimmicks and tricks that have all helped to increase the service’s profile.
The black-cab protest may have set out to halt Uber’s progress on London’s streets, but from the way the company fought back in the media, it may even have thrown traditional cabbies into reverse gear.
Will Edwards is managing director at media training consultancy Bluewood Training