The once-great city of London has slowly become a joke among conservative commentators both in the United Kingdom and America due to its “knife control” rules, prohibitive gun policies, and the growing realization that, much like large urban centers in California, London is becoming a city where only the rich can afford to live.
Now that rideshare drivers working with Uber might no longer be allowed to operate in the city, this reality will only worsen, putting those drivers who relied on Uber to make ends meet out of commission.
Once again, London is proving naysayers right, completely ignoring the most basic rules of economics and hurting the poorest in the process.
Uber Loses Its License
Helen Chapman, licensing director for Transport for London (TfL), told reporters in a statement that after identifying a “pattern of failures” it would no longer renew Uber’s license, which expired Monday, November 25.
Citing concern for Uber users, the regulator added that unauthorized drivers were using approved Uber accounts and picking up passengers in vehicles they weren’t registered to drive. In some cases, drivers who had been previously suspended from Uber’s platform were still able to start a new account, and in other instances, drivers simply did not have the right insurance to operate as rideshare drivers.
With fraudulent drivers behind at least 14,000 Uber trips, the regulator expressed concern that the uninsured rides put people in danger. While no accidents appear to have been reported, Chapman explained that at least one such driver had his license revoked.
The regulator did not seem patient enough to let Uber take care of the situation.
Discussing the reasons why the city would no longer tolerate the largest ridesharing service to provide rides to some 3.5 million users in one of the service’s largest markets globally, Chapman added that Uber had taken steps to fix these issues, but she feared Uber system had been “comparatively easily manipulated.”
“While we recognize Uber has made improvements, it is unacceptable that Uber has allowed passengers to get into minicabs with drivers who are potentially unlicensed and uninsured,” Chapman said.
“It is clearly concerning that these issues arose, but it is also concerning that we cannot be confident that similar issues won’t happen again in the future.”
While the company’s license has expired, it has the right to remain in operation while it appeals the city’s decision. If it eventually loses, however, the company will have to leave the Big Smoke.
“Extraordinary and Wrong”
With 21 days to appeal, Uber is in a difficult position as it finds itself forced to beg city bureaucrats to reconsider.
“We understand we’re held to a high bar, as we should be,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote on Twitter. “But this TfL decision is just wrong. Over the last 2 years, we have fundamentally changed how we operate in London. We have come very far — and we will keep going, for the millions of drivers and riders who rely on us.”
Despite knowing that the city’s “extraordinary and wrong” decision will be difficult to fight, the company is hopeful.
In a statement, Uber confirmed it had audited each one of its drivers in London for the past two months, adding it would start using facial-matching processes to prevent driver fraud.
While on Twitter many reacted to Khosrowshahi’s post with mockery, the reality is that in a city where everything is overly regulated, and people are on the brink of a civil war due to the growing tensions brought up by disputes over immigration, Brexit, and politics in general, the loss of Uber makes London that much harder to navigate.
The city that once served as the backdrop for Voltaire’s insights regarding the importance of a free market, and how people of different backgrounds have incentives to — at the very least — tolerate one another if they seek to profit from their labor, is now a shadow of what it once was.
A place where tourists bemoan the decay of its public spaces and where locals live in constant danger as they have no access to self-defense tools is quickly becoming a nightmare. With fewer transit options, those who relied on the small comforts provided by Uber at lower prices than one would find in the taxi market are back to square one.
To bureaucrats like London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the decision appears to be rooted in their desire to seem concerned enough, without having to actually take steps to effectively fix the situation.
“I know this decision may be unpopular with Uber users, but their safety is the paramount concern,” he said. “Regulations are there to keep Londoners safe, and fully complying with TfL’s strict standards is essential if private hire operators want a license to operate in London.”
The reality is that putting the safety of Uber users first has little, if anything, to do with regulating the business out of existence.
As a matter of fact, it is overregulation, both in London and elsewhere, that makes the business a difficult (and expensive) one to maintain. If London wanted to make Uber safer for riders, it would cut the red tape and let Uber use its resources to make passengers safer.
Uber quickly learned this, as it was forced, early on, to get on lobbying governments for protections as they closed in and threatened the service’s existence.
As always with these cases, you have to look at the hidden hand behind the harassment. The New York Times explains:
Organizations representing drivers of London’s traditional cabs see Uber as undercutting their business and have lobbied against the company’s license renewal. Some, including Steve McNamara, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, celebrated Monday’s decision and said Londoners would be “safer as a result.”
It’s hardly the first time this struggle has been made public. Three years ago, 8,000 cabbies brought the city to a standstill in protest of the very existence of Uber.
Thus is the term safety bandied about in order to cover up the real agenda of driving out the enterprising competition from the private sector so that legacy cabs connected with the government can have a free hand.
As U.K. residents beg for more economic and personal freedom, its regulators and bureaucrats continue to push very different plans. Don’t be surprised if this decision further expands the already wide divide between people of different backgrounds and political affiliations.