Uber vs. London

By Brian Harris, Staff Writer

September 30, 2017 could be a day that goes down in history, as 40,000 London citizens risk losing their livelihoods due to reasons out of their control. I speak, of course, of London’s crusade to ban Uber from its shores.

3.5 million people use Uber throughout London according to Theresa May, Britain’s current Prime Minister. In an interview on Thursday, May told the BBC that “At a stroke of a pen, what the mayor has done is risked 40,000 jobs and of course…damaged the lives of those 3.5 million Uber users.”

That mayor she’s referring to is Sadiq Khan, who has brought fire and fury with the decision to back the “Transport for London” (TFL)’s decision to let the controversial company’s taxi license expire on Saturday. What does that decision mean in English?  Well, simply put it would effectively ban Uber from London in its entirety.  Which leads one to ask, what is Khan’s motivation for this sudden upheaval of one of London’s most popular modes of transportation?

Luckily Mayor Khan has written an entire opinion piece for The Guardian outlining his position in the whole affair. It’s an interesting read, but if I had to boil it down to one key argument, it would be safety concerns. He brings up Uber’s inability to report on criminal offenders in their employ, and their much-debated background checking. And in this context, Khan is convincing, “All private-hire operators in London need to play by the rules. The safety and security of customers must be paramount.” At the end of the day though, this is an issue that will boil down to your personal politics.  And I don’t mean politics as in the hyperbolic absurdity they’ve become in the modern context. I mean an actual political divide, a classical one. Big government vs. free enterprise.  Keeping it strictly to myself, I’m mostly on the side of Uber, but with some caveats. 

Honestly speaking, I don’t think that anyone has any intention of permanently banning Uber from London. Rather, I think this is a public display of negotiations. Uber has notoriously been a prickly sort of company when it comes to governmental interference.

This is the company that, back in 2015, publicly humiliated New York Mayor Bill de Blasio when he proposed a cap on Uber drivers in New York by creating a de Blasio mode in the app, which would only show as “No Cars Available.”  They are not strangers to blowback like this, which makes their response to this London controversy a little jarring comparatively.  Newly appointed Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi issued a public apology for the company’s “mistakes” on Monday. At first glance this looks like a dramatic shift in tone from their previous exploits of year’s past, and that may be true, but when you look at what’s at stake for them it becomes a lot clearer.

Losing 3.5 million potential customers in one fell swoop would be a disaster of monstrous proportions for Uber, and one I’m sure they have no intention of letting happen. Their response has been two-fold, their apology being one, the second being a recent Change.org petition.

This petition, created by the company itself, has blasted to over 800,000 signatures in no time at all. It has received so much attention that Mayor Khan has left a quick response regarding it on the website, reiterating his previous stance. What does all of this do for Uber? Well, let me put it this way: Uber has not only begun the appeal process, but will be talking with London transport commissioner Mike Brown on Tuesday, October 3, according to The Telegraph.  It seems to me like it’s one big negotiation with Uber to increase its safety protocols, Uber can’t afford to lose one of their biggest markets, and the TFL and Saduq Khan know it.

Using it to their advantage they will force Uber to make its changes, whether they want to or not.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds like business to me.

Photo Courtesy: iTunes


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