Monday 12 March 2018 9:14 am

Tech friend or foe? Sadiq on why going up against Uber isn't bad for London's business

Sadiq Khan pledged to be the most “business-friendly” mayor to lead London when he was elected almost two years ago.

But in September last year, he shocked the business community by backing Transport for London’s (TfL) decision to revoke Uber’s licence.

Uber is not known for its good corporate governance, but Khan was criticised for taking a hard line on a company that was using technology to bring benefits to consumers.

The dispute with Uber is ongoing, and today, as Khan heads to Austin, Texas for South by South West festival, he has not softened his stance on Uber.

In his speech at the conference, Khan will reference his clash with Uber, and say that regulation must keep pace with the new technologies on offer to consumers.

“I’m saying to technology companies: don’t be scared of cities that want you to play by the rules, you should embrace it,” he says.

“Otherwise you have more and more examples like Germany, which have legislated much to the discomfort of social media companies.”

London Black Cab Drivers To Protest Over Uber Taxis
Uber is fighting TfL's decision in the courts (Source: Getty)

He dismisses the suggestion that TfL’s decision to revoke Uber’s licence was motivated by support for black cab drivers.

“We want not a race to the bottom, we want standards being raised,” he says. “And many people, the day after [the decision], people are saying it is the end of time as we know it; Uber wouldn’t try to address the concerns TfL had ― and low and behold, if we take it at face value, Uber are trying to address the concerns TfL had.”

Tensions have eased with the appointment of Dara Khosrowshahi as Uber's new chief executive. Khan says he has been “impressed” with Uber since Khosrowshahi took charge. He adds that former boss Travis Kalanick was not taking TfL's concerns seriously.

Khan says all companies will be treated the same "no matter how many lawyers you hire, or PRs you have" (he is accompanied by two PRs for our interview). Ultimately, Khan is convinced that Londoners will survive without Uber because a new ride-hailing app will emerge. He wants the capital to attract disruptive technologies, and cites Airbnb as a responsible tech firm that he wants to see thrive in London.

“If you are a business, you are queueing up to come to London,” he says. "I’m confident the environment in London is healthy and there will be alternative companies trying to get into London.”

“It shows the difference of having a strong mayor on Londoners has, rather than this situation where you’ve got a chumocracy, when people bend over backwards to the extent they fall over to try and entice companies that aren't playing by the rules.”

He points to the actions he has been taking to ensure that the capital’s tech community can thrive, most notably, his decision to make TfL’s passenger data freely available, which has lead to the creation of at least 700 apps.

“I encourage them to get wealthy as a consequence of them using the data, because I support the service of the apps,” he says.

With two more years in office, Khan will be hoping to convince London firms he is indeed on their side.