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The Uber ban is a disaster for London

Jim Edwards
The Uber ban is a disaster for London
  • The Uber ban will hurt the majority of London residents who do not live in the city centre.
  • It also ends 40,000 jobs.
  • It is a failure when a city makes it harder to get from A to B.
  • Uber helped open up new neighbourhoods, providing transport for people on modest budgets who are not served by taxis or public transport.

LONDON -- Let's admit this from the outset: the impending ban on Uber in London is Uber's own fault.

But this is still bad for London.

The company -- from its former CEO on down to the local level -- has never missed an opportunity to shoot itself in the foot. (Its former CEO once commandeered a mother-and-baby room at the corporate headquarters so he could meditate, for heaven's sake.)

From its failure to report sexual assaults by drivers, to its failure to add tipping to the app until just a few weeks ago, and its failure to guarantee drivers at least minimum wage, Uber has a lot to answer for.

But for all the company's many, many, many faults, the decision by Transport for London (TfL) to pull Uber's licence is a disaster for ordinary working people in London, and bad for the city as a whole.

Beyond central London, where most Londoners actually live, public transport and taxi availability is often patchy. The Underground does not run at night during the week. On weekends, it runs on only a few lines. And night bus service is ... well, no one with options ever chooses to take the night bus home. It's slow, uncomfortable, and full of drunks.

Good luck getting from Zone 1 to Zone 4 for less than £40 in a traditional black cab, if you can find one.

The Uber ban is great news for Hackney cab drivers. There are about 22,000 of them in London, according to the government. Banning Uber will function like a full employment act for this small minority of mostly white male drivers, who charge the highest prices to get from A to B.

It's neutral news for the 3.2 million people who live in Zones 1 and 2 in central London. Black cabs are plentiful in the tourist-y areas. Their lives will not change much.

But it's terrible news for the estimated 40,000 Uber drivers, most of whom are not white, but who made a living driving where black cab drivers never want to go -- Zones 3 and outward toward the M25.

And it's even worse news for the 12 million or so Londoners who live in Zones 3 through 9, where taxis don't circulate on most streets and buses are the only way home. Life is going to become a lot more expensive for them, very quickly.

This decision essentially privileges a few workers who have taken advantage of regulations that benefit them over the vast majority of ordinary people who, a few years ago, were suddenly delighted to find that they no longer needed to buy a car if they wanted to live somewhere slightly cheaper.

It's a disaster for Uber drivers, who often financed their cars simply because they knew that a few hours on the app helped them pay it off. And although Uber has a rap for paying its drivers less than black cabs, you'll find -- if you bother to talk to Uber drivers -- that the vast majority prefer driving for Uber over Hackney and private-hire firms, where they are at the mercy of prejudiced dispatchers, driving fees, and shift-work. They money isn't great but it's a lot higher than minimum wage, too.

That is where the bad news for London as a city comes in. The transformative thing about Uber is the way that it opens up vast stretches of the urban landscape that were previously ignored or written off by most people and businesses. Having Uber in your city means that yes, in fact, you can live in that neighbourhood that was previously a no-go area because it was too inconvenient. Not all of city life needs to be right in the centre. The future of London is clearly moving East, South and North as millions are priced out of the central neighbourhoods by Russian, Arab and Chinese oligarchs. On that basis, Uber allowed people to own homes, live more cheaply, and provided more customers to outlying businesses than any other company in London.

This is a failure for London. A crucial test for any city is how easy it is to get across town. It is enormously reassuring to visitors if, when they step off a plane and fire up Uber, they can see cars available. Second-rung cities like Brussels tend to ban Uber. That's where we're going with this.

Uber made London easier. And TfL has now needlessly made life harder here.

Let's hope that TfL, Mayor Sadiq Khan, and City Hall hear loudly from the millions of people who relied on it every week, as the appeals process drags on.