The drive against Uber shows it’s time to park the idea that government works for the people

Why does Sadiq Khan have such a problem with a service that is uber cheap, reliable and efficient? San Francisco–based app Uber epitomises the benefits of capitalism. Uber matches customers to drivers with a tap of a button, allowing fast pick–ups from the more obscure locations not often served by black cabs. Uber provides flexibility for drivers and convenience for customers; it is an apt demonstration of the power of technology when consumer is king. Khan’s attempts to bestow privileges on traditional taxi drivers should make us question whether he’s really working for us at all.

Khan’s claims that black cabs “provide a unique service for Londoners” are simply unfounded. In the past black cabs were able to monopolise much of the taxi industry since customers hailed them for a journey whereas other cabs were book–only. This enforced segmentation of the market enabled taxis of both types to charge customers extortionate prices for even the shortest of journeys. The arrival of Uber changes all that. On average, black cab airport quotes are double the estimated Uber price for the same journey.

If Sadiq Khan really cares about the welfare of Londoners, including their financial welfare, he should surely welcome the arrival of cheap, self–regulating cab services such as Uber. His caving to the self–preservationary demands of the London Private Hire Car Association and the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association are a worrying sign that it is not the general public that he is seeking to serve.

Not only are Uber cabs cheaper for customers, they are also far more efficient. Uber drivers spend a much greater proportion of their driving time with a passenger in the car than their black cab rivals whose productivity is often curbed by excessive and unnecessary regulation which aids nobody. Sadiq Khan’s claims that spending £65 million of taxpayers’ money in “grants for drivers who replace old vehicles with climate friendly cars” will benefit the environment may well be true, but they do not prevent the enormous and avoidable environmental damage and wastage done by cabs cruising along without passengers in them.

If Sadiq Khan is really so concerned about the environment he should show efficiency the green light, encouraging the rise of companies such as Uber which best match customers with couriers rather than subsiding an inefficient and outdated business plan. His proposal to allow black taxis to “drive in an additional 20 lanes throughout the city typically reserved for buses” is also senseless. Why should a passenger using one type of taxi service be privileged over a passenger using another, or even just a regular commuter? Allowing black cabs into bus lanes will serve to slow down bus services, discouraging customers from a notably more efficient and environmentally–friendly mode of travel.

Sadiq Khan’s choice to deliberately design regulations to put a brake on Uber’s growth sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Taxpayers’ money must be used to serve the public rather than to pander to the demands of individuals, firms and associations left in the dust by those who successfully take advantage of technological developments to provide more popular services. Using taxpayers’ money to hinder progress doubly punishes them. It prevents their money from being spent on items of actual value and increases the cost of their every taxi journey.

In a free society, such as that we claim our country to be, the consumer is king and they have crowned Uber their champion. The total replacement of traditional black cabs with Ubers, or a similar service, is inevitable. Sadiq Khan’s attempts to decelerate this process for the benefit of a small number of individuals and “tradition” will prove both futile and a massive waste of public money.

Customers will not be the only ones to suffer as a result of excessive regulation. Uber drivers are often people who are unable to work regular hours due to heavy commitments such as the care of children or disabled relatives, the very same people the government so often claim to be trying to help. Many rely on their Uber incomes to keep themselves and their families afloat.

Uber’s success is driven by its ability to match an ever–changing supply of drivers with round–the–clock demand. These drivers are the ones that will suffer the most as a result of Sadiq Khan’s proposed changes, and simply because the car they drive isn’t deemed “iconic” enough to be afforded special privileges. In any other context this would be deemed discrimination rather than the preservation of tradition. Drivers providing services giving the best value for money should fare best in an efficient market, not those whose cars look nicest on the streets.

As the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan should be driving change and encouraging innovation rather than enabling inefficient cabs to taxi along fuelled by money from the taxpayers’ pocket. Uber works best for both passengers and drivers; the government’s desperate attempts to stem its growth are not in the public interest. The public are being taken for a ride and an unnecessarily expensive one at that.

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