Apparently the consumer choice of millions is at stake. That’s according to Uber, anyway, the company that Transport for London stripped of its licence to operate in the capital a couple of weeks ago, citing “public safety and security implications”.
The US taxi app company, which also operates in cities across the north, quickly raised a petition to Sadiq Khan entitled Save Your Uber in London. Users keen on Uber’s convenience and low cost rushed to sign it and it had 815,000 signatures at the time of going to press.
Presumably some of those signatures represent the 40,000 drivers that the emotive petition copy states will be put out of work. I couldn’t spot any Uber users specifically signing because they were worried about joblessness but since the petition coincides with 19 of those drivers taking the company to court in order to gain normal employment rights like the national living wage, not to mention the anger of many millions of taxi drivers globally who have said Uber has ruined their livelihoods, the argument appears rather flimsy even to the most hardened Uber fanatic.
Some have argued that women who rely on Uber to get them home safely on a night will be put at risk, but when you consider that it is Uber’s questionable driver background safety checks and rape allegations that got its licence revoked in the first place, this too seems a short-sighted and frankly pretty worrying argument.
Anyway, consumer choice. That’s the main argument for Uber, isn’t it?
Uber has been valued at approximately £52 billion. The next biggest venture capital-backed taxi company, Didi Chuxing (£37bn), recently launched Taxify in London, billed as a cheaper alternative to Uber while also promising its drivers better pay.
Uber investor Goldman Sachs reckons the ride-hailing app business model will “ultimately eclipse” the traditional taxi market, particularly once driverless cars are widespread (sorry, drivers).
A regulatory body like TfL is right to keep an eye on such companies’ practises. I wish more companies – from restaurants to fast fashion outlets – were scrutinised in our cities because, to borrow the brilliantly Dickensian-sounding business term TfL used to describe Uber, I fear a great many are “not fit and proper”.
We get what we accept. Those Uber customers frantically sharing the petition #SaveYourUber clearly recognise the people power a large group of individuals can have. What a shame they’re using it to get behind a flawed company, rather than demanding that company cleans up its act. TfL gave Uber several opportunities to get better over the last five years, but demand was still high enough for Uber not to listen. As long as people are willing to pay, why improve the offering?
Without consumers, Uber has no value. And as consumers, we decide our own value. Of course, if enough people are willing to accept corners being cut in other areas for a cheap and convenient ride home, Uber will continue, at least in cities outside London (and perhaps still in London, if the petition and an apology from Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi for its “mistakes”, has the desired effect).
That’s the line we’re always fed. From McDonalds to Ryanair to Primark, we’re told prices are kept low by offering a no-frills service. But such companies rake in sky-high profits for shareholders. We can demand cheap goods and a pleasant consumer experience and ethical workers’ rights; in fact, if that’s what enough of us demand – with simple spending power, petitions, you name it – that’s what we’ll get.
It’s time we valued ourselves as highly as companies do. We get what we accept, so why are we still accepting this crap?