Today, Transport for London (TfL), the local government body for public transport links in the capital, has decided to not renew the private business license for Uber, the app-based taxi business. Uber, since taking the UK taxi market by storm in the last three years, has been accused of a “lack of corporate responsibility” and not being “fit and proper” to trade inside the M25 orbital.
At a time when the whole of the UK should be proving to foreign investors it truly is “open for business”, this is a self-destructive move that can only hurt the capital’s post-Brexit prospects. The message it sends is that London is not a welcoming place for international business, and that we are prepared to sacrifice economic efficiency and competition to protect a failing and inefficient industry. Instead, it shows London as protectionist, guarding one of the worst monopolies in British business.
The accusations against Uber are largely based around a misunderstanding of the company itself – as a directory service for which drivers can register, and then take control of who they drive, when they work and where they go, Uber is one of the most innovative and imaginative companies to emerge in the last twenty years. As I often say, the significance of organic structures cannot be overstated, and Uber is as organic as they come. The accountability to the customer is also the driving force behind its innovation; with the ability to rate drivers on a five-star system, as well as leave comments on your ride, which not only means consumers also have control over who picks them up, but also that poor drivers get blacklisted and good drivers are rewarded.
The same is true for the workers: since the drivers can rate the customers they pick up and drop off on how well they were treated, those poor consumers are also blacklisted, giving workers control over their own working environment. Add this to their ability to set their own hours, control their own work schedule and load, and one is not surprised that Uber has been undercutting cab businesses on both the service they provide and the working conditions they offer.
While the black cab industry is falling behind, Uber has been picking up the slack. But when you realise this, you can see all too clearly why TfL has refused to renew the license; competition. The black cabs do not want their monopoly challenged, because then they run the risk of consumers realising their service is poor. And with a mayor backed by the major unions, is this any surprise? When there are multiple companies engaged in competition to win custom, the consumer is empowered to make the choice over who they use – and as I’ve stated above, Uber employs this philosophy internally as well as externally.
If you want to see what a Labour Britain would look like, glance at London and you will see – a protectionist racket, which justifies itself on the basis that monopoly services protect the safety of, and improve efficiency for, both workers and consumers, but ultimately harms innovation, drives up prices and damages conditions for everyone.