Uber London Ban -- Great Tech In The Wrong Hands

There has really only been one topic of discussion in marketing and tech this weekend -- Transport for London's decision not to award a new licence to Uber. For those following the debate, it would not have come as a huge surprise. For the rest of the world, Friday's announcement from the London Mayor was a massive bolt out of the blue.

There has been a huge amount of debate. From the celebrating black cab drivers to the outraged tech community, the airwaves have been full of opinion. There are those that say the decision is a way of keeping London black cab drivers happy and shows the capital in a very bad light. Just as we negotiate Brexit here, we are showing the country's capital is anti-tech and anti start-up.

It's a knee-jerk reaction. Anyone who has been following Uber's refusal to deal with its very evident problems will know this has nothing to do with Britain not being open for business nor anti-technology.

If we need to deal with this point straight away, just so to show it plays no role, let's remember that Hailo -- the black cab-hailing app -- was in the trouble in the spring. It was bought by Daimler-owned Mytaxi, in a bid for the German app to add London to its mainland European presence. The majority of London's 72,000 black cab drivers are reported to have signed up to the new app which, rather like Uber, allows people to set up an account and then book cab rides, which are logged through the app. It's worth mentioning that Gett is still out there, going strong, allowing users to hail a black cab from a smartphone.

So the very people who are seen as being anti-tech, effectively labelled transport Luddites, have signed up en masse for a renewed version of the app that allows black cabs to be hailed from a smartphone. I think we can forget about the tech angle here. It might also be worth mentioning that Lyft, the Uber rival app, is also in discussions with Transport for London (TfL) for a London licence. Hardly evidence of a city dedicated to resisting tech or new business strategies.

On the protectionist front, there is definitely a point, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Just reading about the experience of many drivers on Uber makes you realise the company was using them to slash rates and defeat the opposition. Drivers have been very clear that they needed to work longer and longer shifts to make up for ever-decreasing fares. In essence, Uber was using the might of its huge financial backing to crush opposition in London through impoverishing its drivers. What would have happened next  if they succeeded is up for speculation, but raising fares in a market it has cornered would obviously be one alternative. 

For an app to kick up such a fuss about its drivers being forced to take a test to prove they could speak some English just about tells you everything you need to know about Uber. Then there are the outbursts from its fired founder, the continual allegations of sexism within its ranks, and perhaps most alarmingly, its inability to satisfy TfL that it monitors potential drivers closely enough to ensure unsuitable people are barred from becoming drivers. There has been a lot of talk about individual cases but the overall impression is that the standard of driver approval and oversight has not met TfL's expected standards.

It's worth mentioning that in the long battle between mini cab drivers and black cab drivers, someone like Addison Lee has been running a successful app for several years. It's a well-known mini cab firm in London and black cab drivers have not been campaigning about its use of technology to build its business. Why not? Because there is no evidence it is lagging behind on customer safety and it's not slashing cab fares to a point where they can be considered a loss leader.

If you want to know a secret, I can assure you that the mini cab and black cab rivalry is often overplayed. Yes, the guys in black cabs who have to pass "the knowledge" test to show they know the capital inside out do think of mini cabs as a lesser service. However, having family members and friends who drive black cabs, I can assure you they see themselves as serving completely different markets. Black cabs have traditionally being hailed on the street, while mini cabs are queued for in a dodgy office next to a kebab shop or called up. The driver often ends up picking up the drunks a black cab driver wouldn't stop for on the road, even if their light were on.

If anything, then, tech is opening up the home-hailing market to black cab drivers, offering new opportunities with the benefit of users needing accounts that can be blocked if they prove to be troublesome or unreliable as a customer. Similarly, people can now hail a black cab without standing in the rain and have the security of knowing who the driver is and logging their ride.

So I think you'll agree -- black cab drivers stand to gain more than most from app-hailing services. The issue with Uber was not the tech. It was the implementation. Until Uber admits this, takes it on the chin and deals with its poor performance, rather than claiming London is anti tech or anti start-up, then it will continue to add to the lists of cities who have deemed its proposition too unsafe for its citizens.

Next story loading loading..