The behaviour of those running rider and driver matching service Uber has passed before my inspection previously: the aggressive posturing of the California based company, bankrolled by Goldman Sachs and Google, and led by Travis Kalanick, the 21st Century reincarnation of Cornelius Vanderbilt, has become infamous, especially its efforts to simultaneously screw over both London’s black cabs, and its own drivers.
Meanwhile, the inability of the right-leaning press to see Uber for what it really is - an attempt to gain monopoly market power which treats its own drivers as slaves, mere prisoners of the app - has continued apace, with unquestioning churnalism taking Uber’s claim that this is merely a manifestation of so-called “disruptive technology”, and that anyone opposing it is stuck in the past, resistant to change.
So it has been with freesheet City AM, now edited by Uber cheerleader extraordinaire Christian May, and especially when London’s new Mayor Sadiq Khan, who looks like he is actually going to treat the job seriously - unlike his predecessor - decided to bring in new regulations covering taxis and minicabs. Uber is not happy at having to accede to any regulations, and so is doubly unhappy about Khan’s actions.
The task of selling Uber’s excuses for not acceding to the same regulations accepted by everyone else has, at City AM, been delegated to Lynsey Barber, who is the paper’s Technology Editor - remember, it’s all about technology, right? We should keep on Looking Over There. And Ms Barber obediently churns over Uber’s talking points.
“Uber is turning to its customers to help it fight ‘bureaucratic’ new rules imposed by Transport for London, including an English exam ‘harder than the test for British citizenship’ … The billion-dollar company said the rules would ‘threaten the livelihood of thousands of drivers’, reducing their numbers and thus increasing the waiting times for users”. Ah, how did London manage before Uber? Er, quite well enough, actually.
But there’s more: Uber “has also called out a requirement for part-time drivers to have costly full-time commercial insurance even when they're not driving, as well as the need for Uber to tell TfL of any changes to its app, which it argues would slow down the roll out of new features”. Er, this is drivel. Obtaining the necessary insurance might not interest Uber, but it happens to be a requirement of their drivers doing business here. How they do that is their problem. And notifying changes to the app? Nothing more onerous than an email.
In other words, this is excuse-making writ large, and City AM should be doing better. Instead, Ms Barber has now brought readers “Business groups and entrepreneurs have piled the pressure on the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, warning that new rules clamping down on Uber will stifle innovation in the capital and its multi-billion pound digital economy as he attempts brand the city ‘open for business’”. It reads like an Uber PR release.
Instead of shilling for Uber, City AM - and all the others - might consider Uber’s enslavement of its drivers by enticing them to take on car loans and then cutting their pay, something that good libertarians might be though to be hot on. Or the claim made by Steve McNamara of the LTDA that Uber is bribing journalists to produce favourable copy.
Uber is not about technology. It is about bullying Governments into submission, flouting regulation to create business advantage, favouring the strong over the weak, and screwing over those least able to resist - the drivers who have been conned into coming on board, many of them having to exist on as little as £4 an hour, and the customers, who think they’re getting a bargain - until they, too, become captives of the app.
Why City AM is unable, or unwilling, to address any of these points I will leave for others to draw their own conclusions.