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OpEd: London’s Got it Backwards – Why Uber Should Be on Our Streets

(IMAGE: Uber)

Adam Garrie
21st Century Wire

The semi-privatised body Transport For London, which is nevertheless controlled by the Mayor of London, has just banned the international online taxi firm Uber from the streets of the UK capital. The deeply controversial move comes after years of lobbying by the Black Cab Drivers union to get Uber off of London’s streets.

Before going further, a bit of background information is required.

London is home to its famous, though some would say infamous Black Cabs. These are the cabs whose design has remained relatively unchanged for half a century that one can hail from the street in the style of a Yellow Taxi in most US cities.

Several years ago, Uber made its way from California to the UK and took the market by storm.  For a fraction of the price, a Uber car will pick you up from your destination and take you literally anywhere.

Uber has some distinct advantages over the Black Cabs – from a customer’s point of view…

  1. They are vastly cheaper, sometimes 3/4 cheaper than black cabs.
  2. Uber lets users choose the style of car one wants from a small economy car, to a large van to, a luxury Mercedes or BMW. This is helpful for trips to the airport, moving furniture, taking groceries home in a busy city with overpriced public transportation or a night out when one wants to ride in an S-500 Mercedes Benz for a price that is still generally less money than the equivalent Black Cab journey.
  3. Black Cabs in London only cover central areas and there are times when even there the old cabs are scarce. By contrast, Uber’s are generally easy to find 24/7 and operate even in the suburbs of London. Uber always gives a generally accurate ETA once a journey has been booked.
  4. Uber gives the customer an estimated price of the journey before you ride and only charges additional fees based on real-time availability. Black Cabs by contrast have increased rates during evenings, Sundays and public holidays even if there is little or no demand.
  5. Contrary to the anti-Uber propaganda, Uber is actually very safe. Because Ubers pick you up wherever you are, the days of wandering the unsafe streets of a large city at late hours is no longer necessary with Uber. The advantage this provides has been grossly understated, even by advocates of Uber.

Black Cabs are thought to have their own advantages which are generally described as follows:

  1. The driver takes a lengthy course to study the ins and outs of London. This means that the driver is usually familiar with short cuts and popular destinations.
  2. Black Cabs are said to be safer due to the nature of the background checks drivers go through, but I personally find these claims to be highly exaggerated, not least because Uber drivers are in fact subject to standard safety checks from Transport for London.

The realities

Like in most cities, Uber is popular in London because if one can go from point A to point B for a low cost and with little hassle, people will use it. As James Carville said, “It’s the economic, stupid!”

Furthermore, even while many Uber drivers admittedly don’t know the ins and outs of big cities (though some are surprisingly knowledgeable), modern satellite navigation apps, almost all of which are free, give an individual an entire city at their fingertips. Some apps, such as Waze, even account for short cuts and real-time traffic updates.

The fact is that, the training that Black Cab drivers have undergone since the age of the horse and carriage is largely obsolete in the 21st century. For those of a certain age, you may recall having to memorise important phone numbers of close friends, family and work colleagues. Now, few people bother to remember any phone number except for their own thanks to the convenience of smart phones. For that matter, the makers of Rolodex, have almost certainly not had their best years since the advent of Android and iOS.

But it isn’t just technology’s fault. In the late 1990s when Napster allowed music lovers to (illegally) download their favourite albums and songs, the music industry went into panic mode.  After many millions in lawyers’ fees, they shut Napster down, but by then the genie was out of the bottle.

Legal downloads were born, followed by streaming and the revenues of the music industry have never caught up. If the major record labels had bought Napster rather than sued it, a different story may will have been written. Short term thinking did not pay off for the record companies.

Likewise, Black Cabs in London had been going slowly obsolete even before Uber was invented. The prices of Black Cabs kept going up, regulation was generally too high and this added cost was always passed on to the customer. Because of this, London began formally licensing Mini-cabs which could be booked in advance (in as little as five minute’s time) either by phone or in a local office.

Uber operates on the same principle only instead of booking via phone, you book with the app and instead of having an office, the drivers are on the street waiting for a job.

Safety

The safety issue was largely a canard cooked up by the Black Cab drivers union because blocking the main roads of central London proved to be a particularly unpopular way to convince people that saving money by using Uber was a bad idea.

While isolated incidents of horrendous individuals doing terrible things passengers in Black Cabs, licenced Minicabs, and licensed ride share app cars like Uber do exist, there is no real evidence that Ubers are somehow more dangerous.

As I’ve said many times before in the cases of all violent crime, stiffer penalties for wrongdoing is essential as a deterrent. Mounting cameras and ‘panic buttons’ in all cabs is another logical and generally cost-effective way to make things even safer.

The fact of the matter is that Uber is seen by the majority of its passengers as a safe late-night alternative to walking the streets looking for a Black Cab, bus or Minicab office.  In terms of the customer interface model, little could be safer than having a safety-checked driver pick you up at the point of your choosing. Additionally, unlike other cabs, Uber lets you see the drivers name, license and photo before you get into the car.

The scandal

Black Cab drivers were clearly upset that cheaper, brighter, faster competition was taking their business away. But instead of looking to reform their own business model by lobbying for more modern regulations, taking credit cards and other digital payments without massive fees and getting greener and more flexible vehicles, no such efforts were embarked upon.

Instead, the Black Cab drivers union organised mass protests whereby hundreds of Black Cabs blocked busy roads in Central London for hours on end. In the book of ‘how to get the public on your side with protests’ this was about as popular as killing puppies to protest people not picking up their pets’ feces.

And then something really weird happened

One of the arguments that Black Cab drivers made was that Uber was a less safe form of transport. They cited isolated incidents of female passengers being sexually assaulted by drivers, while ignoring famous cases of Black Cab drivers doing the same. The idea that a large portion of Uber drivers are mobile rapists is simply absurd.

Furthermore, if this is a problem, it is a fault of government for not doing something more about policing dangerous individuals than it is about a company with a successful business model that has angered those with an obsolete business model.

Enter an alliance between the corporatist British deep state which constantly passes the buck on public safety to the private sector (which then passes on loads of costs and inconvenience to consumers), the old school socialism of British trade unionism and the Muslim hating alt-right.

Yes, you read that correctly. In a debate I personally engaged in on Paul Joseph Watson’s Facebook profile, most people wanted to debate Islam rather than economics, modern business models, the smart phone revolution or the fact that getting ripped off is no fun. This puts people who blame everything in the world on ‘Islam,’ on the same page as George Galloway, the firebrand left-wing veteran politician who is known to be an advocate of Muslims throughout the world. Galloway ran a campaign against Uber on classic socialist terms. It was an honourable cause, as most of Galloways’ causes are, but this time, Galloway was out of touch with public opinion whereas on his anti-war sentiments he is not only on the side of public opinion – but on the side of a true sense of justice too.

What’s more is that the alt-right who worship capitalism so much that many would be happy to invade North Korea or Venezuela because they are ‘commies’, found themselves on the side of the debate as outdated European socialism, which is a far different animal to the socialism in many vibrant Asian economies such as China.

The fact that people on the alt-right who literally said that Uber drivers are terrorists and rapists are on the same side as an unpopular, globalist Muslim Mayor of London and his erstwhile left-wing opponent George Galloway, was an irony seemingly lost on the on-line Netanyahus.

Ironically, the biggest communist country in the world, China, has something called Didi Chuxing which is very similar to Uber. In fact, next to Didi Chuxing, Uber is only second most popular ride-share app worldwide. Didi Chuxing like Uber, represents progress and it seems that the Chinese government, is far more tuned into what modern consumers want that those in London who are harassing Uber.

Double-standards

One of the arguments made to condemn Uber is that the drivers are technically ‘self-employed.’  But the same is true of Black Cab drivers. The fact that Black Cab drivers are more regulated should mean that Black Cabs should have less regulation, not that Uber should be obliterated.

Furthermore, the safety issue being touted by the deeply corrupt London regime is being ironically embraced by Alt-Right Muslim-haters who, by their own ideological accord, are supposed to hate big government.

When I explained to Paul Joseph Watson’s followers that if they are worried about the allegedly high number of Muslim drivers on Uber, they were welcome to use ‘non-Muslim’ forms for transport, but please allow others to use Uber irrespective of the faith of the driver, I (somewhat predictably) received a barrage of insults whose level of eloquence made Donald Trump’s “Rocket Man” speech to the United Nations appear as though it was a poem authored by Pushkin.

It seems that when it comes to Uber, ‘Big Islam’ trumps ‘Big government’.

The optics are both worrying and hilarious.

Conclusion

The result of the Uber ban, which Uber has already begin to appeal through legal channels, is that thousands of people will become instantly unemployed and millions more will be unable to afford basic transport needs which have become increasingly reliant on Uber. Hopefully, common sense will prevail during Uber’s appeal and some sort of compromise can be reached to keep Uber rolling.

The Uber Ban which has been supported by Mayor Sadiq “Let’s all live with terrorism” Khan, amounts to an attack on modernity and consumer rights by an odd coalition of those whose views on economics are stuck in the age of Mao and those whose views on Islam are stuck in the time of the Crusades.

And yes, I’m happy not to be part of this totally out of touch and backward coalition.

***
Author Adam Garrie is the editor of the international news and analysis website The Duran. He is also a frequent guest on RT International’s CrossTalk. 

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