Uber are attempting to cool relations with London's black cab drivers by allowing them to use the application free-of-charge for 12 months. A source close to the US technology firm told IBTimesUK that the move is an "olive branch" to the drivers amid an ongoing regulations dispute.
The decision means black cab drivers will not have to pay a 5% commission charge to Uber for a year. Jo Bertram, regional general manager of Uber in the UK, said: "We believe that black cabs and Uber can coexist. There are huge numbers of people trying to get from A to B every day in London. And our peak times are when the pubs and bars close, black cabs are at their busiest and public transport is most limited.
"As even the most avid Uber users know, there are many times when a black cab is the fastest and best option because it is literally right there on the street in front of you. There is zero waiting time and you can whizz along the bus lane."
But the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), which claims to have 10,000 members, argued that the announcement was a "PR stunt".
"With over 15,000 cabbies registered with specific taxi-hailing apps like Gett and Hailo, we would be amazed if any drivers decide to take up Uber's offer," said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the LTDA. "Licensed taxis in London offer the best service in the world and as a membership group the LTDA doesn't like the way Uber treats its drivers and customers or its dodgy tax arrangements. We haven't been consulted on this at all: it's just another PR stunt. The response is 'thanks, but no thanks'."
The development comes hours after Unite announced that more than 5,000 of its tax driver members would protest over Uber in Whitehall on 10 February. The demonstration will follow Transport for London's decision to drop a proposal for private hire vehicle operators to wait at least five-minutes between rides.
Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative nominee for Mayor of London, said: "If elected as Mayor, I will stand up for black cabs and help them do what they do best – provide one of the safest and most convenient forms of transport in London.
"This is an important first step in levelling the playing field and delivering greater choice and convenience for Londoners. The election in May is about who will keep their promises, and this is my pledge to protect our much loved cabs and help them survive long into the future."