Goodbye Uber London – the cost of cheap transport too high to bear?

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Goodbye Uber London – the cost of cheap transport too high to bear?

On the 22nd September, news broke that Transport for London (TFL) had stripped Uber of its private hire license that allows them to operate in London, coming into effect by the end of the month. Cue mass panic from the 3.5 million Londoners that use the service (and no doubt a portion of Uber’s 40,000 drivers in the city), and marked outrage: at the time of writing, a petition backing Uber in London has exceeded some 500,000 signatures.

It is very easy to align yourself with the ‘for Uber’ argument. Superficially, it is a great service – cheap, quick, and convenient, it is a perfect means for contending with a fast paced city. I could sympathise with my London friends’ qualms with the high prices of black cabs (and from having once paid £14 to travel from one end of Oxford St to the other in one..), which, prior to Uber, might have been the only safe way home at 4am. Londoners, considering the vast scale of the city and its thriving night economy, perhaps benefit the most from Uber than other UK cities – so in that sense, the loss is a definite blow to its transport network.

Uber has been subjected to swathes of negative press, and in the past I did tend to disregard it, considering some claims to be unfounded, or resistant to change brought about by the gig economy.

 

However, as time has gone on the cost of such consumer advantages has become evident: sad but true, Uber is congruent with our current economic model: pile-’em-high style exploitation for capitalist gain. Driver wages have continued to drop to maintain the crazily cheap prices customers were enticed by. Uber also, for a time, were not paying VAT in the UK. I’m never fully sure if drivers are content with Uber and their terms of employment – most I have spoken to insist that they are, but since they are rated on their performance, it may be naïve to conclude that this is the case for every driver.

The job losses for London drivers is undeniably a problem – they will suffer the most in light of this decision (Riders, meanwhile, can simply make use of other taxi apps and private car services, such as Addison Lee, that might help cushion the blow)

Yet, I think the license revoke could be a good thing for both drivers and consumer peace of mind: crucially, it is not an out- and-out ban. TFL cited the reasons for their decision resulting from Uber’s approach to reporting serious criminal offences, approach to how medical certificates and DBS forms are obtained, and from software that may have prevented officials taking regulatory or law enforcement duties. These issues are serious and must be addressed, but no one is to say at this point that if Uber were to undergo a serious upheaval, their license couldn’t be reinstated.

If it’s possible for the movements of a global, billion-dollar corporation to be reigned in and subject to reform from regulation outside the confines of the company, that must be a positive. Without, a frantic race to the bottom effect of the market may ensue, where the costs to the self-employed working body would surely be far greater.

 

Lara Groves

 

(Image courtesy of The Independent)