The split over whether to Uber or not to Uber is another example of how individualism has deeply affected our ability to see the bigger picture. Uber is a matter of convenience to the individual and no-one else. The problem is human. Not Uber.
Within hours of TFL deciding not to renew Uber’s license the ubiquitous online petition had appeared online. Maybe like myself you received the petition link from friends and what I now call acquaintances. The link of course was sent, no substantive argument with it, no balanced points of view, click this link before you have to time to really think this through. Petitioning not too long ago involved conversation, or an exchange of views. Allowing any use of ink to be well thought out and considered. Not in the age of immediacy. Petitions are not for saving local parks, schools, air ambulances or any social causes. Petitions are for saving tech giants, how naïve we have all been.
Firstly, Uber should be classed as a tech company. It created software for what was a non-competitive market in the taxi industry. The burden should lie with the host government, TFL in this case, to be strong in regulation and management. TFL sadly were not, and no limit of licenses was set, no standardised testing, background checks, and with no consideration for the monumental impact that 140,000 extra cars would have on congestion in the capital. Uber was let off the chain, its business model and method of employment exemplified the worst of high volume, low cost, low quality profit making. It is a tech company through and through. Consider its investment into driverless car technology. More on this later.
Secondly, Uber is not that technologically revolutionary. It is an app, it uses GPS, not much more. It’s entire idea relies on the motor car. An old, money eating form of transport. Uber is a traffic. If you are in an Uber and stuck in traffic a significant part of that traffic is made up of the ubiquitous Prius et al. Stagnated traffic raises the concentration of exhaust fumes in the affected area as cars sit idling away. The counter argument here is that the majority of Uber cars are hybrid, this is less bad than purely petrol but air quality is the concentration of fumes. Free flowing traffic allows fumes to disperse instead of lingering.
Thirdly: money. Uber does not save you money. If the tube, the bus, cycling and walking were once your only preserve of getting around the city. Then jumping in the occasional Uber incurs a considerable up-charge. We only find it cheap because black cabs were a rare treat which cost more. Combine this with rain and surcharging then you are quickly approaching the cost of a black cab. Admittedly Uber is a ‘cheaper alternative’ but only to black cabs. Much like saying flying first class is a ‘cheaper alternative’. Yes, if the alternative is a private jet.
Finally, the humanist narrative. Only momentarily did Uber reference the 40,000 drivers whose livelihoods would be from the TFL decision. This human narrative quickly faded the press and articles. Uber cannot claim moral superiority as job creators while also being primary investors in driverless car technology. Uber is a loss-making business, on a huge scale. That is how they offer such competitive prices. The most-costly part is the human driver. Without the driver; 100% of the fare goes to Uber and they may be in profit. It was a flawed argument from the start, their reputation in employee welfare is entirely negative. Uber drivers are self-employed, receive no holiday pay, no sick pay and are compelled to work detestable hours. Uber is playing every rule in the corporate monster playbook. Staff can come last, profits and growth at the expense of everyone.
Uber is about convenience. It is there so we use it. It costs more than public transport and takes longer to complete your journey (I accept fully the wonders of Uber late at night when public transport is unavailable). A company that has added to pollution in the capital on levels that we have never seen before. A company that has reduced the average speed of a journey through London to 9.8 mph and is no more than app.
As I said in the beginning, we are the problem here. Picking individual convenience over collective preservation we did not question the technology at all. For the collective, for the city, Uber has contributed nothing.