Speak of the devil and he shall appear. After writing about crony capitalism just yesterday, a story popped up on my Facebook feed about how London is trying to handicap Uber drivers with arbitrary regulations.
Uber, for the uninitiated, is a taxicab-like service that has exploded over the last two years. Uber employees are not cab drivers, but “private contractors” who use their own vehicles. The operation is run on an app with which you digitally hail the nearest driver. The app also uses your credit card information to auto-pay for your ride, while also providing the option to tip your driver. Lastly, passengers can rate their drivers on a five star scale, and drivers can rate passengers as well.
The reason Uber has become such a phenomenon is because of its efficiency, ease, and price. Uber drivers can often reach people more quickly than traditional cabs, they are often cheaper, and the app makes the whole process a breeze. The taxi industry despises Uber because while they are burdened by cumbersome regulations, and outdated processes, like the Medallion system in NYC, Uber is innovative, and unencumbered by these rules.
This has led to a war between the taxi industry and Uber via the federal government. Uber has fought several legal cases already, and now it’s facing yet another hurdle at the behest of the methuselian taxi industry. This new battle, however, is taking place in London.
According to The Guardian, Transport for London (TfL), which earlier tried to stop Uber drivers from using their app as a fare calculator because London’s black cab and minicab industry pressed them to do so, is now considering new regulations.
The Guardian quotes TfL’s chief operating officer for surface transport, Garrett Emmerson:
“Technology has developed rapidly, but it has also triggered an exponential growth in the number of private hire vehicles on our roads – there are now over 90,000 drivers today compared to around 59,000 in 2009-10. This new technology is clearly very beneficial for customers, but it has also given rise to a number of wider issues. These include rising traffic congestion, illegal parking and an impact on air quality.”
The new regulations being proposed include forcing Uber drivers to wait five minutes before they pick up their passenger. The claim here is that it would allow for the drivers to plan a proper route, supposedly avoiding “congestion.” But this makes no sense.
Unless your Uber driver is Rain Man, he will likely use a navigation app to get where he needs to go. Waiting five minutes will in no way alter the route provided by the navigation app. Given this, congestion will remain the same.
If your driver knows the city well, he’ll likely rely on the routes he knows, and upon facing possible congestion, would use his brain to figure out another route. This decision should take about four seconds. So again, the five minute delay is useless.
In terms of air quality, delaying an Uber driver by five minutes will simply lead to the same amount of pollution…five minutes later.
So, considering the five minute delay would have no positive impact–at least in the way TfL is suggesting it would–what would it actually accomplish? Moreover, what is it intended to accomplish? Answer: The five minute delay is intended to handicap Uber drivers to level the playing field.
“Leveling the playing field” is an idea liberals promote in order to punish innovators for the express purpose of retaining and expanding their own bureaucratic power. The black cabs are furious that their business is being taken by a competitor, and are pressuring the TfL to take a baseball bat to Uber’s knees. After all, it’s only fair that they continue their monopoly.
It’s obvious this is what’s occurring for multiple reasons. First, the five minute delay, as I mentioned above, is laughable. In the pantheon of stupid ideas, it ranks just behind filling an airship with hydrogen.
Second, as even the Guardian notes, it was pressure from the black cab and minicab industry that led to the previous lawsuit against Uber regarding using smart phones as fare calculators.
According to Jo Bertram, Uber’s UK manager:
“These plans would take money away from hard working partner-drivers and also create a safety issue with people banned from getting into their car, even after it’s booked and waiting right there. And they would add to congestion as cars will be forced to hang around, clogging up streets before being able to start trips. Let’s keep London moving, not slow it down.”
The Guardian says that in the month of September, Uber estimated that 43% of trips began “within five minutes of booking.”
This is cronyism. It stifles innovation, punishes success, and maintains the status quo. It’s all done so that those in power stay in power–whether that’s black cabs, yellow cabs, or big banks.
Cronyism needs to be stopped, and thanks to Uber, the world gets to witness a cage match between cronyism and free market principles in real time. Uber has won numerous battles so far, but the fight will not be easy. Trading favors for influence is more deeply entrenched in society than the notion of democracy itself. Luckily, Uber has the herculean power of a good idea on its side.