Date of release: Friday, March 10, 2017

Black CabLondon's traditional black cab industry needs regulatory reform to respond to the emergence of Uber, a university study suggests.

Research examining the impact of Uber on the capital's transport network was carried out by Dr Zena Wood from the University of Greenwich, alongside UWE Bristol (University of the West of England).

It found the US ride-sharing service had disrupted the market, with black cab drivers reporting a loss in custom.

The study also concluded that Uber – which has rapidly assumed a leading position in London's private hire market – has made it easier for people to move around the city and driven a fall in prices.

Dr Wood, Senior Lecturer in Spatial Informatics within Greenwich's Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities, was the study's lead investigator with UWE Bristol's Professor Glenn Parry.

For their pilot study, researchers interviewed both black cab drivers and Uber drivers about the impact of changes in the market, and carried out an online survey of customers about their reasons for using taxis and the effect of Uber's entry into the industry. Many customers reported switching to Uber from the bus or tube, while some respondents cited cost as a reason for choosing the digital service over black cabs.

Of the black cab drivers interviewed, some reported working longer hours or leaving the industry because of the economic downturn and increased competition. They complained of a lack of work and a fall in pay due to the influx of private hire vehicles into the market.

Dr Wood and Professor Parry said: "The initial findings suggest that the digital innovations introduced by Uber have disrupted the market and changed the nature of how people interact with the wider transportation system. For example, the introduction of Uber has led to many of our interviewees moving away from night buses.

"Uber has made it easier for individuals to move around the city, and it appears to be fulfilling a gap in the existing transportation system where other modes of transport do not fully support the transport needs of individuals."

Researchers have now recommended a series of policy changes that could help the black cab service remain competitive amid increasing rivalry. They point to the fact that black cab drivers pay more than three times that of private hire drivers just to enter the industry, and are required to pass The Knowledge test before starting work.

They also say streamlining the assessment process using technology could help reduce costs and the length of time taken to complete The Knowledge, which typically takes three years to achieve.

In addition, the researchers recommend revising the method of assessment, suggesting drivers be permitted to ply their trade while learning The Knowledge. Offering more flexibility in the pricing structure – set by Transport for London (TfL) – was another suggestion from the academics aimed at boosting black cabs' competitiveness.

A larger study is now being prepared which will look at the impact of digital innovation on the London transport network in more depth, with findings due to be compared with those of other European cities.

The report, supported by Research Councils UK's NEMODE (New Economic Models in the Digital Economy) Fund, concluded: "The larger project will allow the changing nature of transport within cities and the impact that digital innovation is having on these transport networks across Europe to be studied in more detail."

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Story by Public Relations