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TfL forced to back down over waiting times and app changes

Transport for London has been forced into a humiliating climbdown on its proposed changes to private hire operations in the Capital.

Plans to make customers wait five minutes before being picked up, and a proposal to forbid apps from showing cars available for hire have been binned following after strong objections from the industry.

London mayor Boris Johnson said that the plan to stop apps from displaying cars’ locations was “ludicrous and Neanderthal”, adding that most of the TfL ideas “did not find widespread support” and thus he would not proceed any further. Complaints included a 200,000-signature petition organised by Uber, which is a major beneficiary of the decision.

The moves are a kick in the teeth for the black cab trade, which had lobbied hard for the changes. And in a bid to soften the blow against the cabbies, TfL said it was considering plans to make private hire operators pay the £11.50 a day London congestion fee. It was also looking to charge big operators more for a private hire licence.

Uber called the proposals “bonkers” and said the decision was “a victory for common sense”. Uber’s Jo Bertram said: “We’re pleased Transport for London has listened to the views of passengers and drivers, dropping the bonkers ideas proposed last year like compulsory five minute wait times and banning showing cars in apps.”

TfL received 16,000 responses to the consultation Mayor Johnson said: “There were some ideas consulted upon that did not find widespread support and I think are not sensible. They’re trying to turn back the clock on technical progress, we can’t disinvent the internet or apps, they’re making things much easier in our city.”

However, some of the proposals have survived, including a mandatory requirement to provide a landline for customers to contact – so now Uber will have to set up a call centre. All operators – including Uber - will have to give guaranteed fare estimates for customers in advance of their journey, so Uber will have to abandon the “metering” function of its app.

Drivers will also have to pass a basic English language test alongside an already announced “Knowledge-lite” geography test, before they can drive in the capital, and drivers will have to provide personal details, including a photo, to customers before the start of the journey.

The mayor wants to limit minicab numbers in the capital, although this would require legislation, which the government is unwilling to pass.

Licenced Taxi Drivers’ Association boss Steve McNamara welcomed any move to make minicabs pay the congestion charge, saying: “It’s common sense that the 93,000 private hire vehicles that are a major contributor to congestion in London should be made to pay.”

But he slammed Johnson’s ruling on the other proposals, saying: “The Mayor’s response to the PH regulations review is an exercise in pandering to the extensive lobbying power of Uber.”

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