After Transport for London declined to renew the operating licence for driver and rider matching service Uber, many customers, and some drivers, were bereft: who would provide the convenient service and pay the wages? It was as if the capital’s inhabitants had not managed to get around until the last five years, which they clearly had. Moreover, all was not lost, because there is life after Uber.
Even the previously sycophantically pro-Uber Evening Standard has admitted that other apps are available. Telling readers “Luckily, Uber isn’t the only ride-hailing app out there, and there are plenty of alternative options out there for Londoners who don’t want to revert to taking three night buses home”, the paper highlights Gett, MyTaxi, Addison Lee and Kabbee. And there might just be another app on the streets very soon.
Imagine all the convenience of an app, without the overbearing aggression of a corporate like Uber. As John Lennon observed, it’s easy if you try. In the wake of the TfL licensing decision, Nick Srnicek mused “TFL should be creating their own taxi app, worker-run, gov't regulated, and integrated with Oyster & the rest of the London transport system”.
Alice Martin at the New Economics Foundation was way ahead of him: “We're working on an idea for a mutually-owned, publicly backed version of #Uber. Boris Bikes, so why not #KhansCars?” Why not indeed? So Khan we? It seems the answer is Yes We Khan.
“The Foundation believes that now is the moment for TFL and the Mayor of London to go further to provide better working conditions for drivers and higher safety standards for passengers”, asserts the NEF. “The Mayor’s next step should be to start the job of creating ‘Khan’s Cars’: a mutually owned taxi platform for London which would share benefits with drivers and users. Just as with ‘Boris bikes,’ this is an opportunity to improve transport for Londoners and could be developed in partnership with drivers and users”.
But who would hire and vet the drivers, set fares, enforce safety standards and promote the service? Actually, this is not such a difficult ask. TfL would promote the app - as they do buses, Tubes, Overground, and all the rest of their product range. The enforcement would come from the same source - TfL is the regulator.
Prospective drivers would know what checks they needed to pass, and what licenses and insurances they need to hold. It would be up to them to sign up - there would be no corporate body trying to flood the market. Fares could be set by groups of drivers acting as co-operatives, with TfL maybe monitoring fare levels. The app could also be used to call up a Proper Black Cab - and the rates for those are already set, and publicised.l
There would then be a free market - with TfL keeping watch, as any diligent transport regulator should. Users of the app would pay a licence fee to use it, and in return would be part of London’s surface transport infrastructure, able to serve the capital’s travellers and earn their crust doing so. There would be no need to Uber to exist.
It’s that simple. Out of the chaos of Uber’s rise and fall can come something useful to all Londoners, including the Taxi trade. Over to you, Mr Mayor.
Can you imagine the panic that would cause in the cigar-smoke filled rooms of capitalism and its protectors in the civil service bureaucracy?
My God, what next? Banks in mutual ownership that might turn themselves into, er, building societies?
The idea might even spread to other areas of economic activity......
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