Londoners Protected from Convenience by Benevolent State
Londoners rejoice! Your benevolent, all-knowing, all-seeing government has once again protected you from the horrors of convenience, cost-effective services, and comfortable transport. Uber, a taxi service which allows for cheap and convenient cabs to be summoned straight from your smartphone, has been stripped of its license to operate by Transport for London (TfL), the city’s governing body on transport. Without the state, who would force us to use obsolete, overpriced black cabs?
Once again, we are witnessing the astounding shortsightedness of the protectionist state. Rather than embrace the convenience the gig economy provides to consumers, the state prefers to protect the subpar equivalent, all because they have deemed the company to be lacking in ‘corporate responsibility’. Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said of the decision: “I fully support TfL’s decision – it would be wrong if TfL continued to license Uber if there is any way that this could pose a threat to Londoners’ safety and security”. He added, that while he wishes for London to remain a hub of innovation, this must not come at the risk of Londoners’ safety.
Of course, what this really means is that the state doesn’t trust us to be responsible for our own well-being, and thus has opted to simply deny consumers the choice. This is little more than political mollycoddling – an overzealous nanny state making decisions for us. But with the state’s overreaching arm, comes dire consequences; the 40,000 London-based Uber drivers are soon to find themselves out of a job, and the 3.5 million Londoners who use the service are to be forced into using a more expensive, less convenient alternative. And for what? The firm has been blamed for improper conduct with regards to criminal checks of drivers, reports of sexual offences, and negative effects on London traffic (e.g. congestion and collisions).
This reasoning, however, raises more than a few questions. Why is Uber being singled out as the only transport company with reports of improper conduct? Last year, the Independent covered reports of sexual or violent crimes from London black cab drivers – 1,427 being charged between 2011-2016. Following TfL’s current line of reasoning, why weren’t Black Cab taxi companies banned from operating in London? Why have they decided to single out the new kid? Smells like protectionist spirit. The bottom line is that the state needs to stop playing the white knight and allow consumers to take responsibility for their own choices – if we felt like Uber wasn’t safe, we wouldn’t use it. We don’t need a government to make that choice for us.
Tom Elvidge, General Manager of Uber London echoes my woe, stating that “Transport for London and the Mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice”. This really sums up the problem with a state meddling in business – rather than allow tried-and-tested market forces to resolve issues, the state overreacts and panders to the minority, ultimately infringing on the right to choose, and forcing us to accept the stale, regressive economics of protectionism.
One is reminded of the rocky transition from horse-drawn carriage to automobile in turn-of-the-century America. Like the threat Uber poses to established cab drivers, through its provision of a cheaper, more convenient service, horse-drawn carriage drivers felt threatened by the new fangled horseless carriage, which was not only cleaner and quicker, but also scared their horses with its loud engine. Like the cab drivers of today, instead of attempting to adapt their profession to survive the modern economy, horse-drawn carriage drivers opted instead for lobbying and protectionism instead. Despite these attempts, horse-based transport ultimately died out, obsolete and inferior compared to new technology.
Our governments need to pick up a history book and learn that protectionism just doesn’t work. Consumers deserve the right to opt for better service. Just like horses became obsolete as the car took over, so shall state taxis eventually give way to Uber, and so shall Uber likely become obsolete to new technologies in the future. Not only are attempts to block progress in the name of protection and ‘proper business conduct’ inherently futile, but they directly infringe upon the rights of consumers. Let’s stop the interfering, and let consumers make their own decisions. In short, Transport for London, do us all a favour and stay in your own lane (hint: it isn’t the taxi lane).
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