Last Friday, the Institute of Directors (IoD), the business lobby group loved by those seeking the ideological purity of that mythical “small state”, or what others would call More And Bigger Paycheques For Themselves Personally Now, held its annual convention in London. One of those feted was Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, who was given the soft soap treatment by his inquisitors.
The shallowness of inquiry, sadly, extended even to the BBC: “‘If all your facts are from the internet, there's some misunderstanding of who I am and how I roll’, says Travis Kalanick, co-founder of internet taxi service Uber, on Wake Up to Money. He denies that he has ever been rude about taxi drivers. There is a lot of resistance to Uber from incumbents, he says”. Never been rude, eh?
That’s not quite true, is it, Trav? Here’s what Rory Cellan Jones was alluding to: “We’re in a political campaign, and the candidate is Uber, and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi ... Nobody likes him, he’s not a nice character, but he’s so woven into the political machinery and fabric that a lot of people owe him favours”. So Kalanick kicked off his day with a flat-out lie.
It’s also untrue in the case of London, and its black cabs. But onwards and onwards. Kalanick then proceeded to the IoD convention, where he was gently questioned by one Christian May, he of meaningless soundbites such as “Analogue regulations in a digital age”. This has been written up in customarily grovelling style in the City AM free sheet, as Kalanick succeeds in getting his admirers to “look over there”.
Here’s the pitch: “Kalanick said his four-year-old startup would aim to take a million cars off of London’s streets over the coming years ... an additional 100,000 Uber drivers and a new ride option called UberPool in which passengers can share hired cars with riders travelling to roughly the same destination, resulting in dramatically cheaper fares, higher utilisation of Uber’s cars and fewer vehicles on the streets”.
And this is the Kool-Aid that City AM and the others have swallowed whole: “Kalanick says his goal of taking a third of London’s 3m cars off the streets won’t only help congestion and reduce the capital’s carbon footprint, but will create 100,000 new jobs and dramatically expand the local economy”. To which I call bullshit. Uber’s own recent actions give the game away.
At the end of August, London’s UberX drivers – most of the offering – had a 15% pay cut imposed on them. The only reasons for this are over-supply in the marketplace, and an even more aggressive attempt to put black cabs and minicabs out of business. All those new jobs would come from Uber replacing both of those and becoming a monopoly. The net benefit would be not unadjacent to zero.
There are none so blind as will not see through Travis Kalanick and his spin.