There's a theory, or possibly a conspiracy theory, doing the rounds at the moment: that taxi apps have been developed to step seamlessly into the driverless car market once the technology hits public roads. By then, they'll have the branding and reach to instanatly dominate the market – and, oh look, they won't have to pay drivers anymore.
Uber, for example, launched a driverless car research centre earlier this year. That makes the company's other statements, about creating 20,000 jobs per month, or a million jobs for female drivers by 2020, ring a little hollow.
But this week, Hailo, the black taxi-rental app, has stuck its neck out in favour of human drivers. In response to George Osborne's budget announcement of a further £100m investment in driverless technology, the company has launched a campaign aimed at, er, "heroing" (their word, not ours) their drivers.
Giant photos of Hailo drivers will be projecetd onto London buildings in the month leading up to "National Cabbie Day" (27 April), accompanied by the hashtag #FaceToFaceless. In a press release, the company called the campaign "a stand against a driverless world".
Hailo's "stand" (as much as some pictures on walls can be called a stand) isn't that surprising: it's more expensive than its rivals, and justifies its higher pricing by promising you a bona fide, trained London cabbie, rather than simply someone with a car and an app. CMO Gary Bramall was keen to emphasise at the campaign launch that
People don’t want robots; they need to know that their driver will get them from A to B safely and securely. Nothing can replace the relationship a passengers builds with their driver and we need to stand up for drivers.
There is an edge of hypocrisy to the company's defence of traditional customer service. Apps like Hailo have forced the industry to change how it does things, and have prompted demonstrations from cabbies all over the world. Aparently the disruptors don't want to become the disrupted.
Here are a few more Hailo heroes:
All images: Hailo.