Protest or Uber marketing stunt?

London's taxi "strike" today has been so successful that Uber claims to have had an 850% increase in new customer registrations this week. Well, that is a big success if you believe the strike may have been a guerrilla marketing tactic organised by Uber itself.

No sympathy

Personally, I have no sympathy for the taxi drivers. There is no city I have ever visited where I haven't encountered at least one taxi driver who tried to overcharge me. Honest drivers who give their customers value for money have less to fear from new technology than those who are unscrupulous.

When I broke a leg a few years ago and was getting about on crutches for 6 weeks we decided to go out for dinner one night. This was the first time I went anywhere after having a long stint in hospital followed by a period of time I was confined to the house. The taxi driver deliberately skipped two turns leading directly to the restaurant, went another 1km past it and then followed a small street that winds back and forth and eventually demanded I pay him double what the fare should have been.

This is exactly the type of abusive and despicable practice that is being eradicated by Uber's live GPS mapping technology.

Although not every driver behaves so shamefully, this type of abuse of the weak or vulnerable is replicated in one way or another the world over. For example, in Melbourne, Australia, wheelchair taxis that have worked out they can make more money collecting families with suitcases at the airport leave genuine wheelchair users without a ride.

Will Google be targeted next week?

Google has just announced a step-change in plans to build their own self driving cars. Will Google offices around the world, including London be targetted by these crude blockades too?

Political protest or anti-competitive mischief?

Why were taxi drivers not arrested for their protest today? Given that the roads are the place where taxis and their competitors do business, can this blockade really be considered a political protest or is it an anti-competitive practice in blatant disregard of the law?

Weapons of mass destruction

Before even having breakfast you could probably find 10,000 cyclists in central London willing to sign a petition declaring taxis are a weapon of mass destruction. Once again, while there are honest drivers, there is a more than trivial number of taxi drivers who are a genuine danger to the lives of cyclists, scooters, motorcycles and occasionally pedestrians. I have personally experienced one of these thugs ramming my bicycle from behind (his hard-nosed insurer eventually paid up but without admitting liability). The police who attended the incident even told me they had seen so many accidents like this they wouldn't dare cycle themselves.

The web is full of examples that appear to show malicious and criminal behavior by taxi drivers, thanks to Youtube and helmet cams:

Will hotels protest about AirBNB?

Now the taxi drivers have had their chance to cause mayhem, will hotel operators be next?

What could they do though? Will they seek out AirBNB apartments and try to obstruct them somehow? Making mischief outside somebody's home is not a good way to make a point. Chances are, they would be prosecuted or served with restraining orders. So why do the taxi drivers get to jam up whole cities and get away with it?

The Uber taxi meter loophole

Will the courts decide that the Uber app is a taxi meter?

This is actually a tough question. Even if courts rule against apps that perform live metering, Uber could simply remove all metering functions from the app itself and perform the metering calculations in the cloud. The app would just send start and finish locations to the cloud and the cloud would send a message back to the phone confirming the charge. The phone is then nothing more than a communication and positioning device.

Remember the elevator man?

When the automobile was first invented, laws were made requiring every car to be accompanied through public streets by a man carrying a flag. That job, like many others, no longer exists.

elevator attendant

In the good old days, every elevator had a man or woman who would sit on a stool and press buttons to operate the doors and motors.

Some up-market department stores and hotels still have an elevator man to add a touch of nostalgia. The vast majority, however, have eliminated these jobs thanks to automatic elevators.

Now, even aircraft can land automatically on a ship at sea. Look at all those people manning the deck in the video and contemplate how many of them might potentially be out of a job too in 50 years time as Terminator-style automated battleships patrol the seas.

Technology, like the Terminator, is not going to stop.

Comments

It's not clear if you're claiming to have been ripped off in London, but
the taxi situation in London is rather different to most other cities in
the world.

It takes years of training to acquire The Knowledge https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicabs_of_the_United_Kingdom#The_Knowledge to qualify as a London cabbie, so unlike most other places
London cabbies are not allowed to simply jump in a car with a GPS on
their first day.

That being the case, they tend not to rip people off, as they have a lot
more to lose if they get complained about (which is pretty easy for
people to do, given that they are required to display their badge number
on the inside and outside of the cab).

Of course, that means they are something of a closed shop, but I'd say
they offer a service that is worth defending. A mobile App is not a
drop-in replacement for a London Cabbie.

If London cabbies provide so much better service than Uber, they have nothing to worry about.

For the same reason, Coca-Cola aren't afraid of supermarkets' own-brand cola.

Catholic priests give up many years of their life to train and become ordained. Then some of them put it all at risk abusing little boys. How can anybody be any more sure that some rogue taxi drivers won't take short term risks (like ripping off a customer) even if they have had to invest heavily to get their license?