For once Uber is not the bad guy as TfL consults on taxi regulation


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The Independent Online

Transport for London must be the toast of Uber’s PR department after publishing a  series of proposed taxi regulations, at least one of which appears designed to destroy the very thing users of the revolutionary cab finding app find so appealing. 

Someone else gets to play the bad guy for a change. 

At issue is a proposed rule that would mandate a five-minute delay between a passenger receiving a booking confirmation and their embarking on their journey. This would kill one of Uber’s chief selling points at a stroke.

TfL freely admits that some respondents to its original consultation wanted a longer delay. But five minutes ought to be fine, because it means that no longer would you be able to use Uber’s or any other app to jump in a car cruising close by in a matter of seconds. Bang, bang you’re dead. 

Sign our petition to stop this, the company is urging its army of customers. Nearly 100,000 of them have done so, with organisations such as the Institute of Directors jumping in alongside them to complain about “heavy-handed regulation” that could “damage London’s reputation for innovation”. 

It is richly ironic that the regulatory hammer is being wielded by an organisation that comes under the free-market loving, anti-union Thatcherite sitting in the London Mayor’s office. 

It seems that Boris Johnson changes clothes and becomes a friend of measures that look suspiciously as if they have been created to protect London’s black cabs from competition, when the member for Uxbridge & South Ruislip swaps his parliamentary office for City Hall. 

When I called TfL to discuss the matter, it was at pains to stress that all proposed measures remain genuinely open to consultation. This is not one of those processes beloved of Government departments, which are consultations only in the sense that responses will be collated and published before they carry on regardless. 

And to be fair, some of what is contained within TfL’s document looks sensible, even if it might annoy the likes of Uber: enhanced insurance requirements; the need for drivers to undergo training; and a demand that they look after disabled passengers, for example. 

Moreover, the state absolutely has a role to play in this space, and an important one at that. As those of us who have been ripped off in places where regulation is light, if not non-existent, can testify.

Even some of Uber’s users might be prepared to admit to feeling a little discomfited in storming the barricades alongside it. One would only need to spend the proposed five-minute waiting period utilising the services of part-owner Google to see why.

Still, even though TfL says the five-minute rule is just a proposal, it’s a bad one. Disruptive services such as Uber need sensible regulation, not the destructive kind.