I hate being told what to do. It stems from being a child and constantly being told to “stop poking that” or “don’t lick that, it’s dirty”. And rather than maturing my way out of it – it is something that has stuck with me.
Which is why I was pleased that the High Court in London ruled today that app-hailing taxi Uber isn’t breaking the law in the way it meters and charges for journeys. Ok – to be fair – I don’t know what rules were supposedly broken – just that the case was brought by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association and London Private Hire Car Association who claimed that Uber was circumventing the law in regards to how fares were calculated.
The truth is. I really don’t care about metering technicalities and no amount of “uber did this” and “uber did that” – stories will dent the fundamental truth. I want the choice to accept or decline either a black cab service, mini-cab or an Uber service.
I have had many happy and prolonged arguments with cabbies and their supporters on twitter who proclaim to know “the truth” about Uber. And I’m happy to live in a place where our arguments can rage on in the cybersphere. And on. And, sometimes, on. I’m happy to live in a place where they are free to call David Cameron and Boris Johnson all sorts of names – unkindly as they might be.
For, what is the point of living in a democracy if we can’t speak our mind, slag off our politicians and get into arguments over which taxi service is best. However, that is different from saying – you CAN’T use this service – or I want to deny you this service – because I don’t like it and it competes with mine. That is what the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association and London Private Hire Car Association are trying to do. Deny people, like me, the right of choice.
This is not a fight for Uber. This is about the freedom of choice. There will be other players who come into this market. It is about the right of the little people to choose how they spend the limited money that they earn in an expensive capital city.
And the issue I have with the black cab brigade is that they don’t want to get rid of Uber because they provide a bad service and are bringing down standards. But because they are doing a good job, raising standards and taking away their customers.
Black cabs drivers are not only on the wrong side of the argument – they are attacking the wrong people – their customers. Because I am their customer too. Yet they try and shout me down and end up make comments about my mother’s performance in bed. If the comments about my mother were true – she’d earn so much extra kudos from me. But alas, I doubt they are – considering how these days she struggles to finish off a paragraph of the book she is reading – never mind anything else.
I was told by one cabbie on twitter that I should “educate” myself to what Uber were doing – he then presented some articles about Uber cashing on on people’s travel misery – or screwing a Londoner out of £227 for a journey.
Let us not forget that the travel misery was caused by a TFL strike – so the misery of a few Uber customers was nothing compared to the misery of millions at the hands of Transport For London strikers.
And as for research. Well guess what. My research comes first hand – from using both black cabs and Uber. In my experience so far: Uber drivers have been great and it’s a little bit like having a personal chauffeur. There is only one example of a time I was grateful to a black cab driver. It happened in Edinburgh – I was drunk, lost and freezing cold in minus temperatures. This cabbie gave me a lift home and didn’t accept a fare. That was in 1996. Since then, the only examples have been either just satisfactory or negative.
I once complained to Westminster council about a cab driver who was spouting sexist and homophobic views and the result was… nothing. I queried with a black cab driver why he was using a particular route – straight into heavy traffic (I used to run a lot through London – so knew the routes) – to be shouted down & told that “if you don’t like it – you can fuck off out ma cab”. One black cab driver presumed to keep my change – and was very arsey when I asked for it back. A black cab driver once left me stranded on the A4. I stopped a black cab one cold and rainy night to be told- “I ain’t going that route – try someone else”. I ask one for directions once – “Is it for a fare? Nah, well bugger ooof’ – ask someone else”.
However, I do not for one moment pretend that ALL black cab drivers are rude or aggressive – most are nice and helpful. Having said that – being told to “fuck, piss or bugger off” by a black cabbie is something that one begins to cherish on London’s streets. It is one of the few times that someone will tell you exactly what they are thinking – and directly to your face. And if you should engage a black cabbie with a question on a subject they know something or nothing about….they will talk at you until journey’s end.
But, the final reason I have found myself getting into arguments in defence of this new technology is that the anti-Uber mob want to eradicate them from London. That is their final position. For people like me – (and I guess Uber – who I don’t speak for) – I don’t want to see an end to black cabs in London – or to be limited to only having Uber as the taxi service of London! All I ask is to continue to have the choice available to me – which includes hailing black cabs – if and when I choose (and there is one available). If Uber launched a campaign to get rid of black cabs from London – trust me, I and the whole of London would be arguing just as defensively and loudly in support of black cabs, as I do for Uber.
Because, it’s not about Uber – it’s about the choice that comes through the harnessing new technologies.
I am at least sensitive enough to this issue to realise that what many black cab drivers fear is that they are being squeezed out of the market by unfair competition and over regulation. My point here ties into the attacking of the wrong people. Don’t shout Londoner’s down. Encourage them to lobby TFL for less regulation and the ability to also use new technologies. “Use it or lose it” – make us want to jump into a black cab – because we want to…not have to. Cabbies are proud, rightly, of “the knowledge” – but as a consumer, I have to tell you – I don’t care whether it’s an iPhone or “the knowledge” that gets me to my destination – I just want to get there in comfort, safety and cheaply (or not depending on the time of month).
TfL is consulting on 25 proposals for private hire companies – several of which could seriously affect Uber and which are deliberately designed to curb their business by introducing draconian measures. It really is outrageous that in 2015 – a company like TfL – whose Directors are all on 6 figure salaries and who get driven around by chauffeurs – can deny the rest of us the ability to pick who takes us from A to B. They want to consider rules which will make us wait 5 minutes on a cold winters’ night – for no reason – what-so-ever and also rules to stop the showing of nearby vehicles to passengers. Again, for what reason could these 6 figure salaried bosses have for putting in these conditions – whilst they are swanning past in their TfL funded Mercedes chauffeur driven car? It is for one reason and one reason alone – because they are out of touch.
It is important that these measure are not allowed to be brought in – because although Uber might be the first – they are not the only competitor in this market & you just need look to China where there are a number of these start up companies – who are undercutting Uber and creating even more choice in the cities in which they operate. This is may be the true fear.
Some of the new rules that TfL are considering
1. Operators “must provide booking confirmation details to the passenger at least five minutes prior to the journey” [Uber matches passengers with the nearest riders, meaning they are picked up in, on average, three minutes]
2. Companies “must not show vehicles being available for immediate hire either visibly or virtually via an app” [Uber’s key feature is a map of available drivers in the area around the passenger]
3. Operators “must offer a facility to pre-book up to seven days in advance” [This option that would create major headaches for Uber, since it does not allow passengers to pre-book rides]
4. Drivers may only work for one operator at a time [many Uber drivers are part-time workers whose main employer is a traditional minicab firm]
5. There should be controls “on ridesharing in public vehicles” [Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick has said he wants to bring the UberPool service to London, which allows several customers to share a car and drive down the cost each person pays]
You can find and respond to the review by clicking on the link below