Taxi drivers' fears over rise in Edinburgh Uber applications

The taxi trade in Scotland's capital city faces 'devastation' as a result of the dramatic rise in the number of people applying to drive for Uber, it has been claimed.

Taxi drivers are alarmed by 1,763 private hire licence applications in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Figures obtained by Scotland on Sunday show there has been a 54 per cent increase in applications to become a private hire driver in the year since the US company began operating in Edinburgh.

Uber’s drivers have been accused of colluding to force up prices in London, but the firm has also been praised for helping to drive down prices by breaking “taxi rackets” in other European cities.

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Uber, which allows customers to hail a car using a phone app, arrived in Edinburgh in November 2015, with the company predicting a “huge demand” for the service.

Statistics from Edinburgh City Council show that in the year to October 2015 there were 1143 applications for a private hire licence.

However, that increased to 1763 for the following year, a rise of 54 per cent.

Les McVay, the company secretary of City Cabs and a member of the Scottish Taxi Federation, initially welcomed the extra competition Uber would bring.

But he now believes the increase in private hire drivers could threaten the taxi trade. “If this keeps up it will devastate the black taxis in Edinburgh,” he said.

“What we’ll see is less money coming into the black cab trade, and that will mean less investment in vehicles and service. Edinburgh has to decide if this is how it wants things to be.

“If more of these drivers end up on the road, the taxi industry in Edinburgh will cease to be a trade at all.”

Cabbies in London have repeatedly protested, bringing traffic to a standstill, since the arrival of Uber. But while it can take drivers up to five years to pass the tests required for the London Knowledge, the Edinburgh equivalent can be done in a matter of weeks.

A private hire licence from Edinburgh City Council allows people to drive private taxis for firms like Uber, but not black hackney taxis.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Uber drivers in London were collaborating with each other to artificially invoke a “surge” – whereby a lack of supply leads to prices increasing for customers.

Uber denied the practice was happening, saying it had technical safeguards in place to prevent it.

A spokeswoman for Uber said: “All the drivers who use the Uber app in Scotland must be licensed for private hire by their local council.

“Our technology records every trip, including rider and driver details and the route taken which means that any issues can be easily resolved.

“For passengers, there’s always accountability around the journey and the fare. For drivers, using Uber means they’ll always have up-to-date traffic and road closure information and there’s no anonymous passengers or unpaid fares .”