Will London’s black cabs become a thing of the past?

As I reported it on my Instagram feed, Last Thursday London black cab drivers held a protest on London Bridge. It was the latest in a series of protests by black cabs across the capital in recent weeks. Their gripe is with Transport for London and the way firms like Uber are muscling in on their territory.

London’s iconic black taxis have long had it their own way. They’re well trained and regulated, and until recently the only competition has come from mini-cab firms. Even then some cabbies had zero competition, like those at Heathrow Airport. My advice if you need to get home from there, book a mini-cab to pick you up before you leave.

Just like our red buses, black cabs on London streets are a staple of what tourists expect to see when visiting the capital. However unlike buses, they haven’t kept up with the times. The very fact that Uber has fairly successfully plugged a gap in the market, is testimony to the fact that no business model can remain the same for long.

Whilst I do feel sorry for the livelihood of the individual drivers, after all a lot of them are self employed, my pragmatic side says it is their fault for not keeping up with the times. Instead of protesting against their competition, perhaps they’d be better placed to aim their fire at those who look after their interests. Maybe if they’d been more strategic and forward thinking, rather than making hay whilst the sun shone, things would be different.

It’s a fight similar to what we’ve seen with the supermarkets. We’ve seen firms like Lidl and Aldi take market share from the big supermarkets. This demonstrates that customer loyalty is fickle at best. When getting from A to B, we no longer need drivers with an encyclopedic knowledge of London’s streets. Anyone armed with a SatNav app on their phone will do. Most of us don’t need an extra large entry door or wheelchair access. We’re quite happy getting a ride in someone’s everyday car.

So will we see black cabs on our streets in (say) 50 years time? Yes probably, but they’ll likely be relegated to a kind of niche service no one else wants to provide. Black cabs are useful for those with disabilities for example. They’re useful if you need to get somewhere in a hurry, as they’re everywhere and have access to bus lanes. However as their numbers and influence decline, maybe even those advantages will disappear.

The romantic idea of a black cab is old fashioned. For a start, quite a few are no longer black, and those that are come plastered with adverts. There’s even more than one style of taxi.

Will it be a shame if they gradually disappears from our streets? Yes. Will my life be affected detrimentally? No. Therein lies the dilemma for London taxi drivers. I wish them well, but maybe they need to whack up and smell the coffee.

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