An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign
A campaign group set up by the wife of a taxi driver will this week mount a bid to force Transport for London (TfL) to put the brakes on Uber, the app which has recruited thousands of drivers and attracted a multibillion pound valuation.
Sky News can reveal that Artemis Mercer, who started a Facebook group last year in support of London’s taxi trade, will launch a crowdfunding drive to raise £600,000 to fund the initial phase of a judicial review against TfL.
The move will come amid a fierce debate about the breakneck growth of taxi and other ride-sharing apps in London and elsewhere, with Uber facing an array of regulatory measures to restrict its operations.
Mrs Mercer has established Action for Cabbies as a private company to spearhead the campaign, which will use the platform Crowdfunder.co.uk.
The group wants to secure a judicial review on the grounds that TfL was wrong to grant a licence to Uber and its drivers in 2012, because it failed to follow correct procedures.
“There has always been a two-tier system with private hire vehicles on one side and black cabs on the other,” Mrs Mercer told Sky News.
“TfL did not follow those regulations in 2012: it went from being a law-enforcer to a law-maker,” she said.
“In doing so, it compromised public safety and cost black cabbies the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.”
Action for Cabbies will repeat the widely deployed argument that Uber’s drivers use a meter of the kind which should only be available to drivers of black cabs, while complaining that the app does not implement insurance and public safety standards as rigorously as those imposed on black taxis.
The crowdfunding campaign, which will launch on Monday, will target London’s roughly 25,000 licensed black cab drivers to raise the required money, with further finances expected to be required if Action for Cabbies is successful in securing a judicial review.
It will also be open to others who wish to contribute, although it will be unlike many crowdfunding efforts in that there is no prospect of a direct return on the funds invested.
The latest salvo against TfL will form part of a convoluted narrative which has tracked the inexorable rise of Uber, whose latest fundraising valued it at more than $62bn (£43.5bn).
TfL is itself proposing a series of new rules that would curb private taxi-hailing groups, such as forcing drivers to wait five minutes before picking up a customer and providing fixed fares at the beginning of each journey.
Those plans sparked a critical response from business groups including the Institute of Directors, as well as – unusually – the Competition and Markets Authority, the chief executive of which said that TfL would “artificially restrict competition”.
In the promotional material for its crowdfunding campaign, Action for Cabbies will warn that unless TfL’s decision to grant Uber a licence is revoked, the “black taxi industry will be decimated and the iconic black taxi [rendered] extinct”.
Uber now has tens of thousands of drivers operating in London, many of whom also protested recently at the app’s decision to increase the fees it charges.