Published: 00:01, 06 May 2016
Independent and family-run cab companies – some of which have been in the town for decades – say they fear closing or downsizing after budget taxi firm Uber started advertising for more drivers, specifically from Dartford.
Uber is an increasingly popular app-only taxi service, where users can book simply by tapping their details into a smartphone. It sends back the driver’s name and vehicle, and payment is cashless as credit card information has already been logged.
Uber is not licensed with Dartford council, but local cabbies say they have seen a rising trend in Uber drivers encroaching on the town’s streets by loitering on the border with London, and then hanging around Kent towns after booked jobs.
A Messenger reporter put it to the test, requesting an Uber between Dartford and Northfleet. His first trip, with “Ahmed”, was free – an Uber perk.
For his return identical journey at £15.90 he was picked up in Northfleet by Ilulian
Laurentiu within minutes of making the booking, despite the town being 10 miles from the London border.
Said Djannine, the owner of DA1 Cars, said: “The amount of work we have in Dartford is already limited – there’s not enough for more people to come in without it affecting us.
“They’re doing everything they can to kill off other licensed businesses until they’re all that’s left, and then just watch – the cheap fares will end and they’ll rocket the prices up, with no competition left to stop them.
“Of course, it’s competition. We’ve always had competition, but this competition really isn’t fair.”
James Wilson, manager of All Night Cars in Hythe Street, Dartford, said: “You can’t talk to a human being at Uber, it’s just the app. Their running costs are low and so they’re cheap.
“We haven’t yet seen a direct drop in work because of Uber. We get by on our reputation, the reliability of our drivers. Customers know us well, we’ve been here for 40 years.
"But Uber just seem to be getting bigger, and if that carries on it’s a huge worry. We may have to look at downsizing.”
An Uber spokesman said: “We’re looking for professional drivers to help us keep up with demand in London. As such, we’re advertising in a number of towns in the surrounding area.
“There will occasionally be cars in Dartford due to the close proximity to London.”
A spokesman from the Facebook group Support Black Taxis, which has around 10,000 followers, said: “From a passenger point of view, we would just like to point out that Uber drivers have enough trouble trying to negotiate London streets let alone some of the tiny country lanes around Dartford.
“The Uber platform may be recruiting for new drivers, but how long will they be able to keep them?
“For many months now in the Uber online forum drivers have been complaining how they are mistreated by Uber, how Uber is forcing its drivers to work longer, harder hours to make ends meet and how Uber’s commission hike from 20% to 25% is a joke.”
Leader of Dartford council Cllr Jeremy Kite (Con) confirmed there were no plans to authorise Uber in Dartford.
He said: “I don’t know a lot about Uber, but I’ve heard enough to have serious concerns.
“The council’s priority is to ensure the safety of customers and protect the local trade, but we have to be realistic about our geographical closeness to London.
"We cannot stop them coming into the borough from other areas, but I’m not a fan and I will not being encouraging Uber here.
“I think it’s a great shame. We’ve got some good and trustworthy local cab firms here who are licensed by us and form a part of this community, and I hope people continue to support them.”
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said: “Clearly we have to adapt to progress, but what is also essential is that Uber drivers are properly licensed, have the same background checks and insurance requirements of other established taxi drivers.
“We cannot have a situation where Uber drivers are able to undercut local taxi drivers simply because they have less regulation and safeguards imposed upon them.”
Last month, a one-year-old boy sitting in his pram was killed when an Uber driver in a silver Toyota Prius mounted the kerb outside the Baglioni Hotel near Hyde Park.
Last week a Freedom of Information request to the Metropolitan police revealed that in 2014/15, 141 commercial drivers were named as suspects in sex offences – including 31 rapes – from legally booked and illegal minicabs to chauffeur-driven cars and black cabs.
Angela Clarkson, secretary of the United Cabbies Group, told the Evening Standard “it’s impossible to do the checks and balances” on the rising number of licences being issued and that was putting passengers at risk.