Dan Dalton is a Conservative MEP for the West Midlands.
The ongoing feud between Uber and the London taxi industry is one of the key economic battles of our time. Not only does it represent a battle between new services and vested interests, but is also a wider test over how legislators across the world choose to react to the disruption caused by the advent of new technology. In our party, I firmly believe we should be doing our upmost to promote sharing economy services like Uber and AirBnB not least because this new technology gives us a golden opportunity to deregulate services, create less red tape, reduce government interference and promote more economic freedom by giving consumers greater choice. Technology is making old laws redundant. The need for expensive and burdensome regulation in the taxi industry is increasingly becoming unnecessary because of the new model created by Uber. We have to embrace this change.
This does not mean siding against taxi drivers. I believe that they have a very legitimate complaint about the current situation. They have to meet standards and pay the costs of training and licences, having to take “the knowledge” test which Uber drivers do not and which is redundant in the age of sat navs. The answer therefore, is not to block Uber but to change the law. Uber has shown that most of the legislation surrounding the taxi industry is not needed. Consumers simply ignore it because they see the same product at a cheaper price. This is a golden opportunity to get rid of swathes of needless legislation which hurts job creation and overcharges consumers.
The reality is that because of Uber, taxis in London have now become affordable again, especially for younger people. Laws need to change and old legislation should be wiped clear to reflect this new reality. Otherwise, the sharing economy will be stuck in no man’s land, whereby every advancement to help improve people’s lives and make things easier will become bogged down in legislative hurdles which serve only to protect vested interests.
For example, now you can purchase a villa in Spain for only the time you actually need it, rather than having to block book a month or year as you would do traditionally. There is no government regulation on products such as AirBnB, just an agreement between two individuals with an arbitrary partner. This is not subject to the burdensome paperwork which often forces businesses to hike prices nor inflexible terms and conditions which put consumers off. It is simply a deal made between you and another person, which can be done within several minutes on your personal mobile phone. Those who offer the best services will receive the best reviews and this in turn drives up competition and the quality of service. On the flipside, those who fail to provide a good service will lose business and probably end up exiting the market.
The advent of the sharing economy offers a huge opportunity for us to remove regulatory barriers. Just as the Industrial Revolution dramatically upended society and sent millions flocking to the cities, in doing so remoulding society, the digital sharing economy also offers the same potential. Uber, AirBnB, Task Rabbit and WeArePopUp are just the very beginning of this revolution which is going to radically change every economy across the world. What is happening now, is not new. When the first Ford Model Ts first began rolling off the assembly line, there were demands to restrict them to 25 miles per hour. When the horses they replaced first came onto the road, there were no doubt also great suspicions raised. It always takes time for people to accept change. Yet it took the unstoppable power of the free market before governments reacted to the rise of cars, building roads and reshaping the cities around them. Laws changed and modern advancements were able to thrive. We need to wake up to the huge scale of change the sharing economy will cause and get rid of old, costly and unnecessary regulations allowing people to do business freely.
The digital revolution and the shared economy are still at their infancy. We cannot foresee which services will evolve next, but we can be certain that they will encroach and disrupt other long established industries. That is why the we must embrace this change quickly .
Let’s embrace the digital revolution and enjoy the individual choice that it will bring. The consumer will truly be king, and we will all be better off for it.