By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) - London transport bosses decided on Wednesday not to impose a series of strict new rules on private hire cars, including those from apps like Uber, but could make such services pay a daily charge for entering the city center.
Following months of protests from drivers of the capital's famous black cabs, Transport for London (TfL) launched a consultation last year on a raft of proposals to curb the way such firms operate.
But on Wednesday it said it had decided that operators would not have to provide booking confirmation details to passengers at least five minutes prior to a journey starting and would not stop firms showing immediately available vehicles on an app.
Uber, which allows customers to book and pay for a taxi on their smartphones, and would have been hit by such steps, welcomed the decision.
"We’re pleased Transport for London has listened to the views of passengers and drivers, dropping the bonkers ideas proposed last year like compulsory five-minute wait times," said Jo Bertram, the company's general manager in Britain.
But transport chiefs said the number of private hire drivers had increased from 59,000 in 2009/10 to more than 95,000 at present and they wanted to combat the issue of congestion and pollution, especially in central London.
Mayor Boris Johnson had been pushing to cap the number of private hire vehicles but said on Wednesday he would now look into removing an exemption which means such cars do not have to pay a charge for entering the city center.
Most drivers must pay up to 11.50 pounds ($16) if they enter an area of central London, including the financial district the City, known as the congestion charge zone, but black cabs and private hire vehicles are among those currently exempt.
"Private hire vehicles now represent over 10 per cent of vehicles entering the Congestion Charging zone on a daily basis and I have asked TfL to investigate the impact and feasibility of removing the Congestion Charging exemption," Johnson said.
San Francisco-based Uber, whose investors include Goldman Sachs and Google, has grown rapidly around the world but has faced protests, bans and restrictions in several cities.
In an open letter to Johnson, Uber urged him not to remove the exemption, saying the firm could help cut traffic in London.
Tfl said it will seek approval from its board in March to make drivers pass an English language test, provide guaranteed fare estimates for customers in advance and ensure firms provide a telephone number customers can call if they have a complaint.
(Editing by Stephen Addison)