Uber: TfL stops the clock


Another day and another regulator has stepped in to stop the clock.

That may seem an extreme statement to make about TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s private hire operator’s licence from next Saturday but that is what the net effect will be.

Uber operates in over 700 cities across the world but London has sensationally just announced that it will render 40,000 drivers without work and 3.5 million users without any meaningful choice. While Uber will still be able to operate until the appeal process is exhausted the writing appears to be on the wall – back to your overpriced cattle pens and sweary sweat boxes, Londoners

The reasons advanced for the decision are essentially based around incident reporting, how Uber obtains documents and software that prevents the regulator accessing the Uber app.

It’s hard to believe that TfL have reached this decision all by themselves – you don’t have to look very far on Twitter to find evidence of intensive lobbying by Uber’s rivals in the capital.  Indeed, when Uber prepared to launch in Belfast, the local taxi duopoly were barely out of the department responsible for regulating transport. The madness has even reached Australia where cab drivers successfully managed to lobby for subsidies to make up for their reduction in earnings.

Screeching from traditional industries aside, after years of trying to ensure that London’s roads were reserved for (the quite brilliant) Routemasters, freight vehicles and cabs, policy makers have become rapidly frustrated by the number of actual cars on the road.

A largely automated booking service and an entirely paperless system of receipting, billing and travelling has created a cheaper, better product than the Essex-based cab driver whose ability to be flagged down, excellent patter, daily commute, union fees and basically pointless ‘knowledge’ you pay a premium for. Uber grew rapidly from 2014 onwards and so short tube and cab journeys decreased.

While TfL’s brief press release didn’t go into detail, what is telling is that TfL do not like how Uber meets its regulatory obligations. It’s a process issue. At no stage do they seem to be claiming that Uber does not conform at all.

In that case, it’s reasonable to speculate about the relevance of a regulatory regime that at best is outdated and at worst has been built around the norms, of an industry that, without consistent regulatory intervention, would be dead.