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The trouble with Uber

When Transport for London (TFL) announced that it would not be renewing Uber’s licence earlier this week, there was jubilation from the Black cabs and outrage from users

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Uber, bringing issues of digital disruption to the fore
Uber, bringing issues of digital disruption to the fore

A couple of weeks ago, I got chatting to a loved-up, young couple in a London pub, who as it turned out, had met during a shared Uber ride.

 

They were telling me how Uber (apart from it helping them find love) made their lives easier and far more convenient out in the far reaches of zone four.

 

Black cabs, they said, were just too expensive. With Uber all you need to do is download the app and summon the ride – easy and cheap.

 

When Transport for London (TFL) announced that it would not be renewing Uber’s licence earlier this week, there was jubilation from the Black cabs and outrage from users, with the general consensus being that banning Uber was a backward, Luddite step in the face of innovation; an unthinkable position for a high-tech city such as London. And what about the thousands of Uber drivers who will lose their work moonlight or otherwise?

 

Uber is regarded as one of the prime digital disruptors. Founded in 2009, it operates in over 600 cities round the world with 40 towns and cities in the UK.

 

But digital disruption and innovation alone aren’t a positive force for good.

 

Part of the reason for Uber losing its London licence is due to safety issues and the company’s approach to reporting serious crimes.

 

According to an excellent article in the Guardian (www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/27/uber-london-ban-sexual-assault-california-case-police), Uber has a pattern of ignoring the police and victims of assault long before the London ban, and law enforcement concerns aren’t unique to this city alone.

 

Uber itself has been dogged by scandals – allegations of sexual harassment, a toxic work culture and the resignation of its founder and CEO Travis Kalanick. Plus, there has been a legal challenge to its autonomous vehicle development from Waymo, Google’s self-driving spin-off, which has accused Uber of stealing its intellectual property.

 

In London there have been criticisms over the working practices. A big player in the gig economy, Uber drivers may get the ultimate in flexible working but pay can be low, and holiday and sick pay are distant dreams. However, I must add, that towards the back end of 2016, two Uber drivers took Uber to court and won a ruling, which decreed that they weren’t self-employed and should therefore be subject to the national living wage.

 

Like my pub pals, the millennial generation has taken to ride-hailing with ease. It makes the idea of getting a bus positively antiquated.

 

A digital connected life has meant that with a swipe or a click you can get a car, pizza, a date, whenever you wish. It’s the ultimate in personalisation. Live your life the way you want it.

But this individual free-for-all has a price. A peer-to-peer gig economy may give you money now, but doesn’t afford any security for the future. No training, no rights, no benefits.

 

Then there’s more cars on the roads, so what does that mean in terms of congestion, and currently emissions?

 

Then there’s the public transport network, how do we make sure that it can deliver for all, made more innovative and efficient? Can be it maintained, funded and upgraded when a noticeable swathe of the public is off using ride-hailing apps? Surely transport and mobility should be offshoots of, and complementary to the main public transportation infrastructure.

 

The answer has to be good, strong governance that truly considers responsible innovation that looks to the greater good. Transparency, respect for workers and users, safety issues, are all part of a larger conversation that needs to take the bigger picture into account. For starters, we’ve got populations on the rise, squeeze on resources and climate change to tackle. The here and now may be seductive, but as all we all know, convenience is never cheap.

 

Melony Rocque

Executive editor

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