A UK MP has admitted that he didn’t know what Uber was until London’s black cab drivers started striking outside the Houses of Parliament.
Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock told Business Insider at a sharing economy conference in London this week that a strike in Parliament Square last June impacted his one-year-old son’s birthday, which was being held in the House of Commons on the day of the strike.
“I’d never heard of this company Uber. It was my son’s first birthday and my grandmother who is 101 was coming so I had a bit of a logistical nightmare,” said Hancock. “It was all going just about fine and then suddenly there were a load of taxis on Parliament Square and then there were more taxis and the whole thing ground to a halt. My one-year-old and my 101-year-old grandmother were stuck in a car together and one was screaming. They weren’t enjoying it.
“I didn’t know why there was this protest so I went on Twitter and said what is this all about and a load of people came back to me and told me about this company that I’d never heard of. Anyway, I signed up that day and I’ve been using it ever since.”
Twitter users were surprised that Hancock, then UK business minister, hadn’t heard of a company of Uber’s size.
Hancock, now one of the government officials helping to shape legislation around Uber and the sharing economy, said he is on the side of the “disruptive technology” as opposed to the side of those “disrupting economic progress.”
He added that the government should be focused on the needs of customers.
“I note that the High Court ruled that an app is not a taximeter,” said Hancock. “I think that’s a very good starting point. Ultimately there are over a million Uber users in London and many people rely on them to get a more effective, faster and cheaper service and we should be on the side of the consumer.”
Hancock’s comments are at odds with what London mayor Boris Johnson and transportation regulator Transport for London (TfL) have been saying about Uber lately.
Johnson initially came out in favour of Uber but earlier this month he said that Uber is “breaking the law.“
Meanwhile, TfL has released a series of proposed measures that stand to hurt Uber and other ride sharing apps.
A member of the audience questioned Hancock about the mixed messages coming from different parts of government on Uber.
Hancock said “simplicity is everything” when it comes to regulation but didn’t say how the different government bodies will work together to inform policy on Uber. Instead, he told the member of the audience to visit a website and raise his questions there.