Come back Uber, all is forgiven

September 29, 2017

We know that Uber pretends it’s not responsible for its drivers; and we know that doesn’t really seem honest or fair; and we suspect that Uber drivers don’t get as good a deal as they deserve.

But we also know that we’ve got to get around London and sometimes public transport isn’t the answer – so we need a cab. The big choice is between the traditional London black cab and Uber. Except it’s not a choice at all, unless you’re very rich, because black cabs are prohibitively expensive. Uber is affordable. And it’s more than that – it’s also quick and efficient, and their drivers are generally nice people who want to give a good service.

So why has Transport For London, aided and abetted by Sadiq Khan, banned Uber with only a few weeks notice?

You tell me: I certainly don’t understand. A couple of days ago, I had to go from home near Ladbroke Grove into Soho – but with a damaged ankle, which ruled out any walking and public transport. The Uber car from home to the West End cost me £15 – not bad for a comfortable ride of forty minutes. Later in the day I had to go from just north of Oxford Street to just south: a journey I could have walked in about eight minutes. Thanks to the ankle I had to take a taxi so I flagged down a black cab, and for a ride of a few minutes I got a bill for another £15. The cost of several miles with Uber was the same as the cost of barely one mile with a black cab.

I’m very happy if Transport For London uses its clout to get Uber to be a bit kinder to its drivers. But an outright ban, with ludicrously short notice, seems to be a kind of bureaucratic bullying. It may cost Uber a bit, but the people who will really suffer are 40,000 drivers who lose their jobs. And Londoners who lose an inexpensive cab service.

I know we all feel sentimental about black cabs. I’m sure when cars started to take over from horses, people felt sentimental about stable lads and saddle manufacturers. But times change, and we can’t un-invent new technology, whether it’s the motor car or an app that gets you where you want to go easily and cheaply.

What will happen now? At the moment, the ban stands. But Uber are challenging it, so their service will go on while the lawyers argue. And the petition to preserve Uber in London has received an astonishing 813,000 signatures.

So we may all get a reprieve. Yet I still don’t understand why Transport For London and Sadiq Khan can’t see the case for affordable taxis in London, when 813,00 of us can.

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