Adam Smith wrote in his Wealth of Nations that, “people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” He goes on to conclude that proposals for new regulations “ought always to be listened to with great precaution”. His words from 1776 remain as true as ever in London today. Transport for London’s latest regulatory proposals are a sop to the Unions. They will hammer innovative businesses like Uber, reduce competition, raise prices and worsen the quality of transport Londoners receive.
Proposed rule changes include a ban on showing available cars for hire “either visibly or virtually on an app”, and a mandatory wait time of 5 minutes from booking a journey to getting a car, even if a car is available immediately. These two rules alone would undermine the core of Uber’s business model – you won’t be able to see cars on the app and you’ll be left needlessly waiting on the street.
The rule changes would harm many drivers too, particularly those who work part time, with a ban on working for more than one operator at a time. “Controls on ridesharing” would halt plans to introduce UberPool and other upcoming digitally enabled transport services. TfL are also looking at new tests, advertising controls, payment rules and a requirement that companies “seek TfL approval before changing their Operating Model”.
TfL innocently claim the consultation seeks to "raise standards across the industry" following an "exponential" growth in the private hire industry and technology. Yet according to City-AM the taxi unions are boasting about their influence over the consultation, and Addison Lee is happy they are putting the “genie back in the bottle”.
Regardless, these proposals would protect incumbents at the expense of innovators and flexible jobs. This is hardly consistent with the Government’s ambitions to cut regulations, promote the Tech City, and make services ‘Digital by Default’. Londoners looking for instant, cheap and quality transport are the ultimate victims.
This all reminds me of Bastiat’s satirical parable from 1845 in which the candle makers petition the French government to block out the sun, lest their business be harmed by unfair competition. Fortunately, Uber has established a counter petition, which you can sign here.