It was during the City Hall tenure of London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson that driver and rider matching service Uber was first allowed on to the capital’s streets, and then permitted to expand to the detriment not only of established taxi and private hire operators, but the very ability of the city’s traffic to keep moving, such has been the congestion caused by Uber vehicles cruising in search of jobs.
As a result, Bozza, who shamelessly courted the cab trade in both 2008 and 2012, was so despised by it towards the end that it was no surprise when one cabbie drove up alongside him when he was cycling back to his home one evening, lowered the driver’s window, stuck out his hand, made a gesture suggesting stimulation by hand, and called after him “You’re one of them, you are, mate”. What a bell and cranker!
But what Bozza also did - although neither TfL, the Metropolitan Police, or the cab trade seems to have noticed it at the time - was to state unequivocally, in a mass-market newspaper, that Uber was an illegal operation. You read that right: he did so in his column for the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph. Worse, he suggested that breaking the law was not such a bad thing.
The column in question is available without paywall access, and is dated 4th October 2015. Bozza wrote it during the “consultation” on new proposals for minicab licences. These were vehemently opposed by Uber, and more importantly, their very vocal cheerleaders in the media. This is some of what he had to say.
“Don’t bash Uber, they wail, and the phones in City Hall have been ringing off the hook with scandalised calls. I understand completely the points they make: that Uber and other such apps are helping to create jobs for thousands. The service is cheap, it is convenient, it is ever more popular. As I write, 128,620 people have signed a petition calling for TfL to drop its proposals – and I am inclined to believe those numbers are genuine: that there is a massive and growing constituency of people who use the app, and who swear by it”.
Uber and other similar apps may enable some to find work, but this is often sub-minimum wage work, putting in dangerous numbers of hours, and becoming slaves to the App in order to pay the bills. Those in the media making the most noise were, generally, not as badly off. Nor were they inclined to gave a damn about why Uber was cheap.
An absolute Muppet. And Elmo from Sesame Street
Still, Bozza did have time to alienate the cab trade yet further: “The black taxi trade has not always been its own most effective advocate, and in recent months cabbies have been badly let down by the behaviour of a few. You cannot expect to command public sympathy if you blockade the traffic. You won’t win people over by stampeding City Hall and roughing up staff - in protest, absurdly, at the use of the word ‘Luddite’”.
Moving right along from the realisation that London’s former Mayor does not understand what the term “Luddite” actually means, we arrive at his first admission that Uber was breaking the law.
“The reason TfL is consulting on new regulations for minicabs is very simple: we need to uphold the law. At present that law is being systematically broken – or at least circumvented - by the use of the Uber app” [my emphasis].
And it’s not as if he did not know his law: “the law says that only black cabs may stand or ply for hire in the streets, and only black cabs can be hailed in the streets. Parliament has been very precise. A minicab may not rank up, a minicab may not ply for hire - cruise in search of passengers - and a minicab may not be hailed in the street. Indeed, a minicab must be booked through a third party, a licensee or booking agency”.
He then went on to illustrate how those laws were being broken. “You only have to consider the habits of many Uber minicabs - not all, but many - to see that this law is systematically broken; and that is because technology makes it so easy for it to be broken”. Out comes the excuse: it’s tech, so, well, meh.
The result of this? “You no longer need to hail a taxi by sticking your arm out or shouting; you just press a button and within minutes - seconds - the car will be at your side. The car can be parked up at a petrol station, or down a side street, or just dawdling in traffic, and - ping - it will be there”. It’s called plying for hire. Which he just admitted was illegal.
But he suggested that this lawbreaking was a good thing: “In other words the app is allowing private hire vehicles to behave like black taxis: to be hailed, to ply for hire in the streets, to do exactly what the law says they are not supposed to do. You have the instant (or virtually instant) accessibility of the black cab, with none of the extra costs entailed by the vehicle regulations or the Knowledge, and the growth of the business is huge”. It was the app’s wot did it, Officer, honestly!
Somehow, the reasons for The Knowledge Of London, and the vehicle regulations, are not merely forgotten - they are simply disregarded, by the then Mayor, who concludes his spiel “I agree completely with the free-marketeers: it is nuts to try to ban technology”.
Think about that. London’s then Mayor knew the law well enough to summarise it and explain it to readers at the Telegraph. He knew it was being systematically broken. But when push came to shove, he just stood there and let it happen.
Worse, his excuses are lame in the extreme: no-one is suggesting “banning technology”. This is another in the series of whinnying excuses from Uber cheerleaders, that enforcing the law means “banning technology”. It doesn’t. Enforcing the law means just that. If it impinges on apps like Uber, then that means apps like Uber are breaking the law.
“But it’s shiny and new and, well, tech” is not going to persuade any law enforcement authority anywhere in the civilised world, and nor will it persuade any court, if that is the defence advanced for breaking the law. That, though, is more or less what London’s former Mayor was claiming, even as he explained to Telegraph readers that Uber was an illegal show, and that he as Mayor was doing nothing about it.
TfL knew it was illegal. Uber admitted that it was illegal. And Bozza told the whole world it was illegal. And what did they all do about it? Nothing. Nil. Nix. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Not a sausage. Bugger all.
It’s becoming clearer by the day that Bozza was a useless Mayor. Now, the cab trade is learning just how useless he was to them.