Uber has not won a victory in London

Today Transport for London (TfL) and the Mayor of London have announced new regulations for private hire vehicles. It’s not about all private hire vehicles though – these new regulations are aimed specifically at making it harder for Uber to operate in London and protecting black cabs from competition.

As usual with these types of corporatist regulations, it is the consumer who suffers. Ordinary Londoners are being protected from choosing how they get from A to B by City Hall bureaucrats who think they know best.

Unfortunately, we can now count Boris Johnson as one of them.

As the Evening Standard tells us, London is now introducing regulations for Uber (and other private hire vehicles):

  • requiring drivers to pass a basic English language test alongside an already announced “Knowledge-lite” geography test, before they can drive in the capital
  • guaranteed fare estimates for customers in advance of their journey
  • drivers will have to provide personal details, including a photo, to customers before the start of the journey
  • minicab firms like Uber will have to provide a phone number for customers to contact in the event of a problem
  • stricter insurance measures for drivers and higher licence fees to better reflect TfL’s enforcement costs, and to help reduce the number of vehicles on the roads

We should judge these measures by whether or not they will help Londoners get a better service and move around the city more easily: they will not.

If people want services with drivers that have good English, guaranteed fare estimates and company phone numbers they can call – there are providers available that have those things. Let people decide their private hire vehicle priorities for themselves. So far, a great many of them are happy with Uber without these regulations

The Knowledge, pride of black cab drivers, is a neat trick – but in the age of GPS it is not necessary. And nor is the scaled down version Uber drivers and others are now going to be forced to take. Again, if customers value drivers having geographical knowledge they can take their custom to providers who have it (except they don’t and they aren’t – which is why the London Taxi Drivers’ Association is so upset).

Uber already provides personal details of the driver, including a photo (as well as information about the car make/model and registration plate). It works really well. But why should other companies be forced to do the same? They have other business models that work for them and keep their customers happy – let them continue in that way. If some minicab companies think Uber has the right idea with the info it provides and such info would make their customers happier, let them make a business decision to do the same. Let consumers and providers choose – don’t force them.

People like using Uber because it all works through the app. You order, track, pay for and rate your journey all through the app. You have the opportunity to leave feedback through the app too – about your drivers’ English skills if that’s as important to you as Boris and TfL think. You do not need a phone number. If people had a serious and major need for a phone number to call and complain Uber would not be so successful. There are plenty of other providers to choose from if you prioritise having a phone number to call.

The final point in the above regulations is to increase costs of driving a private hire vehicle in London – with the express intention of reducing the number on the road. How about we let private businesses respond to consumer demands and provide the level of service people want to see?

Boris and TfL are unfortunately trying to limit the number of Uber cars on the road so that people will be forced to take a black cab every once in awhile. Because black cab drivers aren’t minded to provide a service more Londoners want, they have to use coercion to make life harder for their competitors. Shame on Boris for allowing it.

It is true that many of the most damaging regulations that were proposed in the consultation – including five minute waits and not showing available cars – are not being pursued. But that is not the ‘victoryThe Telegraph claimed today. It is merely the avoidance of total madness in favour of a damaging dose of corporatism.

It was said to me a few months ago that TfL’s proposals were all about having just two or three types of cab/taxi businesses operating in the city. This is one step towards that vision. It makes things much tidier for TfL, but it has no benefit for ordinary Londoners who pay for the cars – and the regulators.


Emily is the chairman of Conservatives for Liberty. Follow Emily on Twitter: @ThinkEmily

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