The rise of Uber is capitalism at its best

Uber represents everything good about capitalism, disruptive innovation at its best; modernising and lifting the standards of an industry. Any politician who wants to make it harder for Uber to operate is directly working against the interests of consumers.

If a group of union heavies had broken into Parliament during the recent debate on the Trade Union Act, disrupted the House of Commons, forced an end to the session and knocked a security guard unconscious in the process, what do you think the government would be doing right now?

Those involved would be receiving the full measure of British justice and the Conservatives would be at total war with the unions. All of which makes it surprising that when members of that famous cartel, London’s black cab drivers, burst into the chamber and brought an abrupt end to Mayor’s Question Time, there were absolutely no negative consequences whatsoever.

CityAM reported at the time:

Mayor’s Question Time was shut down after police were called to City Hall today, after a security guard was apparently knocked out in scuffle outside the building. 

Black cab drivers were demonstrating outside (and inside) the Southbank venue over ongoing criticism of Transport for London’s handling of regulation for private hire car companies, in particular Uber

They waved banners calling for Johnson to “stand firm” against “Uber’s lobbyists”, with suggestions that the ride-sharing taxi app puts public safety at risk. 

Ah yes, appeals for politicians to consider public safety – the last refuge of the desperate, antiquated monopolist fighting a lost cause as they slide into irrelevance. Won’t somebody please think of the children, too, while we’re at it?

Regrettably, physical intimidation and deeply entrenched special interests usually work together to produce the desired result, and right on cue, Transport for London is announcing a crackdown on the people whose ingenuity and flexibility are making it easier and cheaper for Londoners to get around town.

For the first time since the internal combustion engine made the horse-drawn hackney carriage obsolete, there has been a revolution in the taxi industry. The internet and mobile phones have made it easier for consumers to hire the vehicle of their choice from the location they prefer, while satellite navigation technology means that drivers no longer need to memorise an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city streets in order to provide fast, professional service.

And right at this juncture – when the price of minicab journeys is falling, making them a faster and financially viable option for those on lower incomes – along come these twenty-first century Luddites and their political cheerleaders, threatening to bring the whole endeavour screeching to a halt.

But what exactly is so worth protecting about London’s black cab industry? Nothing more than the privilege of being ferried around in a glossy black box, anachronistically shaped so that gentlemen have room to wear their top hats when seated, while an abnormally verbose and opinionated bald man weaves a meandering and unnecessarily pricey route to your destination based on his hazy recollection of the 1974 London A-Z.

The other day my wife took a black cab home to West Hampstead from a conference in the Docklands, and it cost £75. Seventy-five pounds. You can get to Paris and back on the Eurostar for less money. So why wage war on the people who are putting an end to rip-offs and outrages like this? Why punish the people who tirelessly find ways of leveraging technology to offer a better service at a fairer price?

On this question, there’s no ambiguity. Are you pro-consumer, for free markets and low regulation, or do you take the side of entrenched special interests, their closed industries, high barriers to entry and ancient cartels? Pick a side, and then defend your position in the white heat of public debate – and a London mayoral election.

Right now, too many in the Conservative Party – the supposed bastion of free market thinking – are equivocating, or coming down on the wrong side of the argument altogether. No politician should kowtow to noisy special interests over the interests of hard working Londoners.

Samuel Hooper is a journalist and blogger, passionate about politics, free markets, civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter here

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