NICK HERBERT: Uber has given the market a much-needed shake-up
Three years ago London was brought to a standstill by protesting taxi drivers. That was when I first learned about Uber, the service they were complaining about, and I immediately signed up. I haven't taken a black cab since.
It’s not just that Uber are cheaper. I like the convenience of calling an Uber on my smartphone, knowing when exactly the car will arrive and how much the ride will cost, and the automatic billing to the account of my choice.
I’ve used Ubers all over the world, from Brasilia to Tokyo. The company is criticised for not employing its drivers, exploiting the ‘gig’ economy. But every Uber driver I’ve spoken to in many different countries has told me they like it, often mentioning the flexibility which it gives them in their working lives.
Uber’s use of technology disrupted the market, giving an old-fashioned service the shake-up it needed. Now taxis take credit cards and use smartphone hailing, too. New competitors have entered the market. It’s all been great for the millions of people who use the service globally.
But the taxi drivers hated it, and this week they got their revenge, persuading a compliant mayor to revoke Uber’s licence in London. At a stroke 40,000 drivers will lose their work and 3.5 million Londoners will lose a service they want. Imagine the outcry if job losses on that scale had wilfully been caused in any other sector.
If there are indeed safety issues around Uber they can and should be sorted out. In fact by making a taxi service more affordable for millions of people, Uber have arguably enhanced safety. Everyone knows that the draconian ban is really about politics, urged on by the unions and aggrieved black cab drivers.
Uber has given millions of us a taste of how technology can transform a service to the benefit of consumers, while Sadiq Khan has given us a taste of how a Labour government, in hock to the unions and driven by an increasingly anti-market ideology, would behave.
The same ideology was revealed at Labour’s Party Conference in Brighton this week. There were cheers for every left-wing policy announcement that would protect producers to the detriment of the taxpayer.
This is the politics of vested interests. We know where it took Britain in the 1970s, the decade when union control literally resulted in the lights going out. Like an old, diesel fume-belching black cab, Labour’s anti-progress agenda is a relic of the past.
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