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Uber London introduces black-cab service amid widespread protests

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Will it be enough to appease angry drivers?

Amid widespread protests across Europe today, Uber is launching a new taxi service that gives Londoners access to the city's iconic black cabs. Named UberTaxi, the service strays from the regular Uber pricing structure, instead adhering to Transport for London's standard three-tier fare rates. Customers booking a black cab through Uber won't be charged a booking fee, but drivers will be charged a flat commission of 5 percent. The setup is remarkably similar to another cab app, Hailo, which acts as a matchup service for existing taxi drivers and prospective clients in major cities around the world.

Protests in London, Paris, Madrid, and Milan

UberTaxi can be seen as a olive branch to London's black-cab drivers. Upset with losing customers to Uber, drivers today will congregate in central London in protest. They argue that Uber drivers circumvent taxi laws by using a mobile app to calculate fares. Under local law, only black cabs are allowed to meter fares, while "private hire" cabs like Uber should be able to quote a price before a journey begins. Although laws differ from country to country, licensed cab drivers around Europe are perturbed by Uber taking advantage of legislative loopholes to operate while undercutting traditional services. In addition to London, protests are taking place today across Paris, Milan, Madrid, and other major European cities.

At present there are, to our best estimate, approximately zero UberTaxi drivers operating in our corner of London — our repeated searches this morning have found only a single available driver in the very center of town. That's perhaps unsurprising given the vast majority of drivers are currently protesting, not to mention the infancy of the service.

UberTaxi appears as the fourth option in the Uber app. As the service abides by black-cab pricing, it usurps the Uber Lux as the most expensive service available from the company.

Update: It seems the standstill caused by protests is actually helping Uber's cause. The company claims it's already seen an 850 percent increase in sign-ups compared to the same day one week ago — before drivers took to the streets. But it's hard to imagine how any of those people are actually getting somewhere; the public display has resulted in major gridlock throughout central London.