Even after driver and rider matching service Uber had been, if only temporarily, banned in London, Government could not wait to get back into bed with it, unlike the established taxi and private hire trades which their fondness of the lawbreakers from the States has done so much to damage. And now, the Government has once again met with Uber, enthusiastically welcoming the company’s plan for transport domination.
The scale of Government-sanctioned grovelling has been exposed by release of an email from Catriona Henderson, head of buses and taxis at the DfT’s Buses and Taxis division. This records the main points of a meeting between Chris Grayling, allegedly the Secretary of State for Transport, and Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who is not at all like Travis Kalanick, honestly. Six of the attendees’ names have been redacted.
Khosrowshahi began with a significant admission: Uber “provides a physical service, not just a software platform”. Well, well. Remember all the protestations that it was merely a technology company? He also claimed Uber “now wishes to engage more with local authorities in which it operates”. If only the engagement included the Police as well.
But the main event was when Khosrowshahi “spoke about his vision for Uber as a full-scope transport platform, integrating public transit, with dynamic pricing and real-time travel information”. He also “spoke about Uber’s aim to have multi-modal connectivity so public and private transit are integrated”. This is flannel speak, but it is also significant, in that it hints as to where Uber would like to be allowed to make its next power grab.
And look what comes next: Khosrowshahi “spoke about UberPool and the upcoming expansion to UberPool services which includes elements of walking to streamline journeys, and that these vehicles could be larger vehicles … [he] also spoke about the hope that Uber will integrate third party services as well, including taxi services, with the aim of being a fully-integrated transport platform”. Ri-i-i-i-ight.
So let’s strip away the bullshit babble and get to the point. There are two seriously disturbing elements to Khosrowshahi’s pitch. One, “elements of walking” and “larger vehicles” means parking his tanks on the lawn currently occupied by London’s buses. But, given Uber’s dislike of regulation and constant lobbying for its own version of it, would mean bringing a chaotic free-for-all into London’s bus services.
That is potentially disastrous, and not just for the companies who have contracted to operate bus services in and around the capital, but TfL, who would stand to see their income decimated by such a move. And the second disturbing element is worse still.
Behold the ritual washing of the hands
Any move to “integrate third party services” means handing some measure of control to whoever is doing the integrating. It also means handing that party the ability to use - and potentially abuse - huge amounts of data, perhaps personal data. And we’ve seen, with recent revelations about Facebook and those who profit from that company’s data, just where that can lead. It would hand control over the cab trade to a rogue insurgent.
Dara Khosrowshahi does not have Travis Kalanick’s brash and intemperate nastiness, but his objectives are just as insidious. And what is worse, he is being allowed to go over the heads of TfL and other transport authorities and pitch to Government. Bad, bad news.
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