Last night my Uber driver said to me, “These black cabs don’t know what they’re doing. The only person to win in this high court battle will be Uber!”
“How’s that?” I asked, genuinely interested in the latest London-based incident of unions and vested interests throwing their toys out of the pram as technological developments and capitalism empowers the consumer.
“Well, they’re just giving us free advertising. More people know about Uber because of this court case than ever before”.
He was right. The fact that a bunch of sourpuss cabbies are publicly revolting over a cheaper, more reliable smartphone-app version of them is indeed free publicity for Uber. But I wondered – if Uber loses in the High Court – who really loses? Is it Uber, or is it me?
I’ll be honest – I take Uber cabs most days of the week. It has become my preferred means of transportation so long as there is no telephone signal or wifi on the London Underground (I mean in the tunnels, not on platforms). So I am preternaturally inclined to side with Uber on this case anyway.
And my fealty to the cause comes not from a free-market, ideological standpoint (though there is that) but because I am a consumer, and I like things that are affordable.
Uber has been in London for a couple of years now, but has really only come into the public conscious in the past six months. For those who are unaware – it is basically an app on your phone that sends a cab to you on demand. It is also much cheaper than minicabs and the old, iconic Hackney carriages.
But of course, the union-affiliated types don’t like it up them, which has prompted a court battle. No one really quite understands what the battle is about. Something to do with Uber’s cars using a meter system which black cabs consider to be their God-given right. Anyway who cares… the point is the only people to suffer if the black cabbies win is you and me.
If the High Court rules that Uber can’t use a metered system (distance and time calculate the fare) then they will be forced, like Addison Lee and other minicab companies, to calculate the fare in advance.
Have you taken an Addison Lee lately? I have. The same 2.6 mile journey cost me £16 in an Addison Lee, and just £9 in an Uber. That’s a 77 percent difference.
And that difference writ large is a big one. Imagine you did that journey just once a week. That’s £360 a year. Politicians bang on about smaller numbers than that when talking about the “cost of living crisis”. Think of this scenario as a “cost of living in London crisis”… or maybe “cost of living in London inconvenience”.
Nine times out of 10, businesses will pass on increased operating costs to consumers. I’d expect Uber to be no different.
If the High Court rules that Uber can’t use meters anymore, then expect fares to rise. No company is going to under-calculate a fare in advance, are they? And this is great news for the remarkably over-priced black cab dinosaur.
So for the sake of the consumer, London’s old black cabbies need to move with the times, getting their heads out of their behinds, and their hands out of our pockets. Of course, we know whose side the Labour Party is on throughout all this, don’t we?