As documented recently by JP Floru, Transport for London’s proposed regulatory attack on Uber – the private hire car app – is proving highly controversial. Over 130,000 people have now signed the petition against the plans – which include making passengers wait five minutes before travelling even if the car is right in front of them, forbidding the provision of car sharing services, and banning providers from showing customers the location of nearby cars on a screen. It looks like a petty attack on a popular and innovative new service, largely motivated by a desire to preserve the privileged position of black cabs at the expense of passengers.
Small wonder, then, that the row has spilled over into the Mayoral election, and looks set to become its first battleground. Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate, has supported the regulations in full – setting out his stall early. During the Tory candidate selection process, Zac Goldsmith seemed broadly supportive of the new red tape, too.
But Goldsmith’s position is shifting. Following vocal opposition to the regulations from grassroots London Tories – including letters to the Mayor signed by groups of councillors from Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham – and perhaps polarised by Khan’s decision to support the vested interests, he revisited the topic in yesterday’s City AM. While Goldsmith signalled his support for restrictions on the number of available licences, he openly attacked some of the more absurd proposals:
“Things like the five-minute pause, I don’t think any customers going to understand why there is a cab hanging around nearby and they have to wait five minutes.”
He’s evidently on a journey on the topic – which may yet see him oppose other parts of the restrictive programme. Given that he wants to cast Labour as more “hostile to business” than ever before, defending a new, high-tech entrant into a market which has historically been quite hidebound would be a good way to demonstrate the difference. Supporting car sharing, for example, would also be in keeping with his enthusiasm for reducing vehicle emissions and congestion on London’s roads, too. Notably, Sajid Javid has also voiced his concerns about TfL over-regulation and signalled that he might step in to prevent regulatory excess regardless of what TfL may decide.
Members of Team Zac contemplating the issue would do well to consider the electoral aspect – a new poll carried out by Populus and commissioned by Uber is reported in today’s Evening Standard. The findings suggest that Londoners are strongly opposed to a variety of TfL’s ideas:
‘Almost six in 10 are against City Hall proposals to make Uber passengers wait five minutes between booking a car and setting off. Over seven in 10 do not think Uber should be barred from showing the location of available cars on a map on its smartphone app, another proposal made by Transport for London, while two-thirds do not believe Uber should be stopped from introducing a ride-sharing service.’
That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – Londoners are well known for their openness to new technologies, and large numbers of them have switched to using Uber from black cabs (including me). It now seems that the Zac campaign is alive to the potential of bringing those people onside.