London’s iconic Black cab is evolving, but will it keep pace with Uber and other ridesharing services?
This month, The London Taxi Company (LTC) will open its new facility in Ansty, near Coventry after parent Geely resurrect the company. Concurrently, LTC was seen testing its newest range-extended electric cab in cold climates in preparation for a new launch. LTC’s quality director, Wolfram Liedtke, says the new model is, “…being developed with two key engineering principles – quality and endurance, to meet the needs of the demanding taxi duty cycle. He went on to add, “It will be, without doubt, the highest quality and resilient product in London Taxi’s 98 year history.”
We’ll take Mr. Liedtke at his word, but will London need more Black cabs in the future? That is far from clear. Ever since the iconic Black cabs replaced the hansom cabs in 1908 they have represented the idea of taxis in London. However, other vehicles now transport those in London looking for a ride.
Nissan and others manufacture modern cabs with green drivetrains, and Uber and other ridesharing services have operators driving zero-emissions vehicles already.
Londoners report that a ride in a Black cab can cost twice what the same ride will cost if one uses Uber. That is a difficult mountain for LTC to climb going forward. The myth that Uber drivers are in some way less efficient or less professional than LTC drivers is also now being challenged as the city’s regulatory group Transport for London (TfL) has instituted a multi-step process for registered Uber drivers in London. In addition to of course possessing a license, Uber drivers operating in the city must pass an English competency test, topographical exams, have a medical exam, and pass a thorough background check. The process can take as long as six months, a reasonable barrier to entry, but given that to be a Black cab driver one typically studies for three years to gain “the Knowledge” before being certified as a driver, quite a bit less than the historical training London’s taxi drivers underwent. Technology has leveled the field significantly of course. Local knowledge is valuable, but real-time traffic alerts and turn by turn instructions projected to a windshield head-up display also gets the job done. The LTC may well build the ideal cab, but the vehicle itself may not be the real key to future success as those who prefer to summon a ride and pay using their smart phone migrate to Uber.