As the year draws to an end, so too might a raging battle on the capital’s streets inch towards a conclusion with the culmination of a Transport for London consultation on the future of the city’s private hire industry.
Elements of the traditional black cab industry have been at war with Uber since the American import arrived on London’s streets some years ago, and 2015 was the year in which things got ugly. The cabby union and its supporters hurled hatred and suspicion at the challenger, accusing them of endangering public safety, recklessly flouting rules and dodging their taxes.
Occasionally, they had a point. Uber didn’t help their own cause in the early days. It won few friends with its brash and combative approach to critics and regulations. The heat generated in this clash is the inevitable byproduct of market forces. A market isn’t a benign place. Rarely does an incumbent simply cede ground to a challenger without the added effects of social, political and even cultural forces coming into play.
What we’ve witnessed in the Taxi Vs Uber debate has been played out over centuries and will be played out many times again. Some industries change in order to survive and others consider change to be a threat to their survival. In such a clash, those resisting the forces of change will likely be overwhelmed by it. That is not to say that black cabs face an existential threat, and for this we should be grateful.
Iconic, reliable and knowledgeable, who hasn’t been relieved to see that orange light on in the distance? Long may they continue. One way to aid their survival is to lower the regulatory burdens they currently face. Early next year, Transport for London will announce new regulations for Uber and other private hire vehicles, designed to protect consumers and raise standards across the board. When they’ve completed this exercise they should examine how to ease the road a little for London’s black cabs.
A more level playing field makes a better pitch for the great game of competition. In the meantime, however you’re getting home tonight – black cab, Uber, tube or limo – have a very merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous new year.