Imagine that a left-wing union activist from Glasgow dreamed up an idea for a workers’ ride-sharing cooperative. In this thought experiment, let’s give this business a liberal-friendly name, “PeopleCar.”
PeopleCar would not only help low-income folks get lifts to work cheaper, but it would be structured as a wealth-sharing collective in which 75% of the money made by the business would go directly to the workers running it. And it would be environmentally friendly because it reduces the number of cars on the road, reduces the demand for new cars, and the company would encourage its staff to use electric or hybrid vehicles.
Best of all, it’s self-sustaining and massively popular with the workers who use it.
PeopleCar would be hailed as a huge success. Its founders would be heroes. You would love PeopleCar.
That company already exists in real life. It is called Uber.
But people on the left hate Uber, because they want to show solidarity with traditional taxi drivers.
Uber operates exactly the way I just described it, but instead of “PeopleCar” it has an unfortunate Nietzschean moniker which makes it sound like it is run by Nazis. It was founded by a shamelessly aggressive capitalist named Travis Kalanick. He is not a bearded leftist from Scotland, the current home of British socialism. He comes from San Francisco, the current home of rapacious capitalists.
Uber is a socialist idea
PeopleCar/Uber is currently fighting for its life in London because an even worse set of capitalists — the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association — who operate a cartel, have employed some very successful lobbyists to persuade the city to draw up new laws that potentially put Uber/PeopleCar out of business. (Uber faces similar fights in France, California and a bunch of other jurisdictions.)
The proposed rules in London are comically unfair. One of them calls for Transport for London to ban animated cars being shown on a GPS map. Which other company is this going affect? And why is it “bad” for customers to be able to see where available cars actually are on their phones?
The LTDA prefers the status quo, in which taxi workers are asked to pay £1,044 in fees just to get a licence to drive, before finding themselves a special £43,000 vehicle to ride around in. The process takes up to four years to complete.
Needless to say, once you drive for a Hackney cab company, you charge incredibly high prices. It can easily cost £30 just to get across town. So you also focus your business on London’s richest people, the ones in Zones 1 and 2, and you try not to do business where the poor people live, in Zones 3 through 6. (Business there is less dense, and they can’t afford it anyway.) And your cartel restricts entry of new competition into your market.
Now, as John Lennon once said, imagine there’s no taxis
Here is an idea for a new business: We should start a car service in which working people are forced to pay huge sums of money before they get driving jobs, and then after they get jobs we organise them into a cartel that keeps prices high, so that low-income workers in the ‘burbs get hurt as much as possible.
That is a cynical, unethical idea for a business. And yet it is exactly what we have. And it is exactly what every left-wing person I know is currently trying to defend. Defend the poor old cabbies from unfair Yankee imperialist competition!
On the other side of the coin, London is run by a Conservative mayor, who you’d think would enjoy seeing the taxi market broken up by efficient competition. But Boris Johnson’s transport agency is seriously considering creating extra regulation, in the form of rent-seeking rules that would require drivers to wait five minutes before picking up any new rider. What kind of Conservative wants more market regulation?
This is mad.
The situation in France is even worse. There, two Uber execs face prison — prison! — for the alleged crime of trying to offer French people a bit more choice in how they get from A to B.
Why is the British left supporting this nonsense?
Anyway, if, like me, you have used Uber and you know THE TRUTH (which is that it’s cheap and awesome), here are some pro-Uber, left-wing arguments you can use the next time you encounter a cab driver at a dinner party:
Uber is good for The People because:
- Most of Uber’s revenue goes to the workers. Drivers keep about 75% of each fare.
- Uber is good for women because it is safer. Although attacks by Uber drivers make headlines, just Google “taxi driver sexual assault -Uber” if you want to know which type of taxi drivers are the real rapists. (That search excludes news stories featuring Uber drivers, so you can see just how frequently regular taxi drivers hurt women.) The safety advantage of Uber is that each ride is recorded by time, location, route, car, and the name of both the driver and passenger, with zero effort on the part of the customer. That does not happen in a taxi — unless you take notes in the back seat before you’re attacked.
- Uber is good for zero-hours contract workers, or anyone else working part time. With Uber, you can work when you want, even if your boss at Sports Direct screwed you over this week.
- Uber is good for parents or carers who may need to work odd hours. Just turn the app on when you want to earn, turn it off when you’re busy.
- Uber is good for low-skilled workers. There are 18,000 Uber drivers in London right now whose only academic qualification is that they passed the driving test.
- Uber is good for minorities. London black cab drivers are largely driven by white guys. Uber cars have a much greater proportion of minority drivers.
- Uber has a low barrier to entry for new workers. Fill out the form. Get a brief amount of training. That’s it. Zero fees. And you’re not spending four years tooling around Zone 4 on a moped in the rain trying to learn The Knowledge when there’s a free mapping app that is 10,000 times better at it than you.
- Uber is good for people who live outside the centre of town. Those folks otherwise face prohibitive Hackney cab fares from the centre of the city, or long walks from tube/train stations, especially at night when the Tube stops running.
- Uber is good for people on low incomes. It is not just that it provides taxi fares more cheaply. People who live in an Uber city — London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham — often find that taking an Uber is cheaper overall than buying and owning a car.
- Uber is good for the environment. Uber reduces the demand for regular cars, takes more cars off the roads, and has a financing programme that steers new drivers into hybrid vehicles.
Is Uber perfect? No. There are lots of things it could do better. But it’s already much, much better than the current taxi experience. Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your cartels!