It hasn’t been a great 18 months for Uber. Both Transport for London and Sadiq Khan indicated that they would prefer unions in the ongoing dispute; even the European Court of Justice waded in with attempts to regulate the disruptor.
Despite the fact that Uber had been used over 2 billion times by the end of 2017, policymakers seem determined to inhibit the company’s growth.
However, regulating Uber will not only have a detrimental effect on consumers, but also on its workers and the future of the gig economy in general. The ASI’s Sam Dumitriu opposed regulating Uber even before the feeding frenzy, warning that calls to treat drivers as employed staff rather than self-employed sole traders would harm those who are “looking for increased flexibility, the ability to be their own boss, to choose their own hours, and to be able to reject any job” – and that’s not to mention consumers who often rely on Uber’s lower pricing and tracking tech to ensure a safe ride home from work or a night out.
Among those who criticise Uber, there is often a lack of consistency in their arguments. It is unreasonable to complain that Uber (or similar gig economy disruptors) are working to the detriment of workers’ rights. As I’ve previously mentioned, drivers have increased flexibility and set their own terms. They dictate their own office space – you won’t see Uber drivers working 15-hour days in dubious conditions unless it’s their choice to do so, and if it is, they can earn an average of £16 an hour for it. Some may claim that leaving Uber unregulated has led to an increase in sexual assaults – this is not true. Despite some issues, Uber is the safest way to travel on the road and has been linked to reductions in assault and the harms of drink driving. Even pro-green campaigners struggle to make complaints – Uber tends to fill its cars, meaning less congestion and less pollution. Additionally, Uber plans to send a fleet of electric cars into British streets in the near future.
Essentially, Uber epitomises disruptive technology and the gig economy, which we should be welcoming, not rejecting. The benefit of a free market is that it allows companies like Uber to innovate and drive up standards through competition.
Green, profitable employment and higher standards of consumer safety: the fact that all this is available for a lower price than that of a black cab is proof that the gig economy (and, whisper it, capitalism) is still working – provided we let it. The government should do so, and listen to ordinary taxpayers and workers rather than taxi unions.
Matt Gillow is runner-up of the 18-21 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition. You can follow him on Twitter here.