The decision not to renew Uber's license has set tongues wagging across London. But did Transport for London do the right thing?by Maurice Glasman, Stephanie Lis / September 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
Maurice Glasman: We need to preserve trust and expertise
The history of the Hackney Carriage is an instructive one. In London, the home of finance capitalism and the prime mover of deregulation, in which the ancient guilds of the City were all co-opted by finance and banks, the “gentlemen of the whip” preserved their status and licences. Anyone could present themselves as a carpenter, a plumber or a bricklayer but the status of the cabbie was preserved. Why was this?
It was an issue of public safety and of expertise. London was a dangerous place, to be alone with a driver in an enclosed space was one of intense vulnerability. The passenger needed to be sure that the driver was accountable, safe and would not act as a rogue highwaymen, robbing them of their money and jewellery.
The second issue was that in a higgledy-pickeldy City such as London, with its absence of a grid and its curious side streets and traffic congestion, there was a need for the ‘knowledge’—a knowledge of London.
And so it was that in an increasingly deregulated metropolis the black cab drivers preserved their apprenticeship, known as ‘the knowledge’ which gave them a privileged status in the labour market. Their monopoly of private car hire was challenged by the mini-cabs but their status was retained. Only black cabs could pick up while in motion, have fixed spots at stations, airports and other public places and could use the bus lanes. The apprenticeship had its rewards.
In return, the iconic black cab became increasingly regulated and expensive. It had to be checked and controlled, the fares set by the public authority (now TfL), disabled access secured, safety made paramount.
And then came Uber, a blast of modernity based on a telephone app that would render the black cabs redundant at last. Cheaper, easier and based on the consumer, it looked as if technology had finally caught up with the knowledge. A consolidated hedge fund in which drivers were partners and the ‘knowledge’ redundant due to sat nav. What could go wrong?
The answer lies in the eternal laws of trust and expertise. The cars were not properly checked and did not have the reliability or ease of access of the black cabs. Jurisdictions were violated as Uber cars went wherever they pleased and picked up whoever they wished. The drivers sometimes had no knowledge of London. They were also exploited by the remorseless algorithms of profit maximisation at the expense of safety, reliability and knowledge.
It is a great day for London that they have been banned.
Stephanie Lis: TfL shouldn’t be intervening in business
This is a great day for protectionism and vested interests and a depressing day to be a Londoner. This decision jeopardises the livelihoods of 40,000 drivers, and punishes millions of Londoners who—thanks to Uber—could afford to travel by taxi across London in a cheap, convenient and safe manner.
Black cabs are an iconic part of London, integral to its rich fabric. But the city’s taxi cartel has been intransigent, brought into the twenty-first century kicking and screaming. The only reason they now take card payments is because Uber shamed them into innovation; and now Londoners can expect a worse service and higher prices due to reduced competition. Let’s remember it’s only the wealthiest residents who can afford to use black cabs with any sense of frequency.
There are indeed worrying stories in the press about safety, but these, sadly, are likely inevitable in a city as big and bustling as London.
As a lifelong Londoner, my journeys in relatively affordable Ubers have made me feel much, much safer than a few years ago when the norm was night buses, long uneasy walks or bank-breaking black cabs. And GPS means people can look out for their friends and families, tracking journeys even if they’re not on them. Uber may not be perfect, but preventing it from operating is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
Banning Uber is a restriction on choice, for both its drivers and passengers. Sadiq Khan is a member of the Party that purportedly stands up for the many not the few. Pretty ironic given that he is putting the views of a powerful minority over the will of millions of ordinary consumers.