London’s black cab trade is dying and there is little anyone can do about it, Boris Johnson claimed today.
The London mayor faced down jeers and abuse from an audience of cabbies as he defended the “market forces” that threaten to put the historic trade out of business.
“You are dealing with a huge economic force which is consumer choice and the taxi trade needs to recognise that,” he told a meeting of the London Assembly.
“Everywhere I go I see yellow lights and I can see the taxi trade is dying and it grieves me, but it is very, very difficult to fight a huge change in consumer preference.”
He claimed the rise of Uber and other minicab apps meant that the trade’s decline was impossible to stop.
“I’m afraid it is a tragic fact that there are now more than a million people in this city who have the Uber app, ” he said to jeers from dozens of cabbies in the public gallery.
Faced with shouts about Uber drivers undercutting cabbies he shouted: “Yes they are. It’s called the free market.”
He suggested that cabbies were fighting a losing battle in trying to get the Uber app recognised as a taxi meter which would therefore require a licence.
He also rejected calls from Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon to revoke Uber’s licence due to safety concerns.
Pidgeon claimed there is a huge problem with Uber drivers driving without insurance or background checks.
“We don’t currently think there are sufficient grounds to revoke their licence and I’m sorry that is the advice I have been given,” Johnson replied.
The mayor did say he would take measures to restrict the number of licenses issued to minicab drivers in order to reduce congestion.
There are currently around 80,000 minicabs in London, up from 50,000 when he first became mayor.
However, Boris’s refusal to take any further action against Uber means London now faces what cabbies described today as “the biggest ever taxi protest” next Tuesday.
Previous protests over the issue have brought London to a halt.
Responding to the threat of protest, Johnson replied: ” There’s a rail strike on Tuesday you might get some fares.”
Johnson previously had a lot of support among London taxi drivers, even enlisting some to distribute ‘Back Boris’ receipts during his first mayoral campaign.
However he was left visibly shaken today as received shouts of “clown” and “joke” from the assembled cabbies with one shouting “I voted for you once, I must have been on drugs,” while another shouted. “You want to be PM? You’re a joke.”
He added that any attempt to revoke their licence would be quickly overturned in the courts.