When we first talked about London’s decision to cancel Uber’s license to operate in the city last month, the reasons being offered by the Brits were rather thin to say the least. Claims about crimes being committed by private operators certainly merit investigation by law enforcement, but ignoring the fact that even more Black Cab drivers were also being charged left the explanation ringing a bit hollow.
Now a new theme is being heard while the decision is under appeal. Rather than focusing on any bad behavior by individual drivers serving the more than 3.5 million app users in London, they’re questioning whether or not these gig economy workers are really knowledgeable enough about London’s history and street layout to deserve a chance to drive people around. That’s right… if you need to rely on a web-based mapping system to get around, you’re probably just not a good fit for proper British society. (Washington Post, emphasis added)
In London, the ride-sharing company Uber, employing tens of thousands of gig-working immigrants in humming Japanese hybrids, finds itself in a high-stakes brawl with the long-established cabbie business, whose iconic black taxis are operated by old-school drivers who’ve spent years committing to memory every street in the city…
The Uber fight in London not only pits new ways against old, it also reveals modern-day ruptures in the labor market — such as, what is the value of a worker who knows things versus a worker who knows how to look up things online?
These people really aren’t this much of a bunch of Luddites, are they? First of all, the Uber drivers are all people who live there too. Sure, the Black Cab drivers probably know the streets a bit better if they’ve been driving them for years on end, but I’d be willing to wager that even the most grizzled old cab driver doesn’t have a brain that can match the accuracy of the information in Google Maps when it comes to street addresses and routes to get to and from anywhere.
Beyond that, those people who are just “looking things up online” are getting more than a location. They’re getting the predicted best route to bring the customer to their destination the most quickly. Plus, the app provides them with traffic information in real time. Even if you are some hypothetical Black Cab driver with a mind like Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory who has memorized every street and alley in the city, that knowledge won’t tell you if there’s been an accident six blocks away in the last half hour. This argument is nonsense.
But the opponents of Uber aren’t stopping there. They’ve come up with another interesting rationale for fighting the ride-hailing service. You see, most of their drivers tend to have funny names.
There is also this: In multicultural London, Uber drivers are far more likely to be named Ali or Muhammad, while black-cab drivers tend to be an Ollie or a Brian. And the fight is playing out in a city where much of the white working class finds itself challenged by the forces of globalism, mass immigration and galloping technological change, all hot-button topics since Britain voted to leave the European Union.
Whoa, Nelly! Did I actually just read that correctly? Who is the copy editor at the Washington Post who approved an article saying that many of these darned foreigners who are driving for Uber are “named Ali or Muhammad” instead of “Ollie or Brian?” Are you saying that our friends in London who are our partners in the Special Relationship are actually a bunch of nationalist, racist monsters?
If these are the best arguments that they can come up with in London they might as well just come out and admit that they are trying to do political favors for the Black Cab service by kicking out the competition. And that’s not going to be a very popular move with their voters. Thus far nearly a million London residents have signed on to a petition to stop this challenge and allow Uber to keep operating.