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What an extraordinary outburst from Uber. A week after throwing in the towel in China, the taxi app — which claims to employ no drivers and certainly owns no cars — is telling Londoners to lobby TfL on its behalf. Under some rant about keeping London open for business after Brexit, Uber’s UK Country Manager is asking the capital’s residents to complain to TfL over the transport regulator requiring taxi drivers to take an English test that Uber considers too difficult.

It’s a jaw-dropping piece of arrogance. The reader of the app’s email might well wonder how on earth the American tech giant can claim to have already invested GBP100m in London, considering it doesn’t actually own a fleet of cars and isn’t committed to employing its drivers. That surely must be a very expensive office the apps have opened up as for a foothold in the capital?

As a Londoner, all I can say is that this is really ill-judged. The capital’s residents have a funny relationship with black cabs. They’re an iconic part of the street that nobody would want to see removed, and although they are the butt of many jokes about selfish driving, Londoners actually have a great deal of respect for anyone who has passed “the knowledge” to earn their badge. Nevertheless, when you can hail a much cheaper ride, anyone’s going to be tempted.

It’s when that service moves on from being convenient and cheap — which we all know is because it’s cutting corners and ensuring it has negligible overheads — and starts lecturing that there’s a problem.

Now here’s the really stupid part — in fact. it’s so stupid it could only come from a tech company that isn’t based in Britain. The Brexit vote was a vote against what people considered to be cut-price labour flooding into Britain from the rest of the EU. I was a firm Remain voter, but I got the point that Leave campaigners were making. People are fed up with their towns being filled with cheap foreign labour who get every right to every state handout as a Brit and have the ability to take jobs off them too. I don’t agree with the sentiment but every Brit will tell you this is why the country voted to leave the EU.

So, in an email talking about keeping London open for business after Brexit, only the most stupid app imaginable would appeal to Londoners to encourage their transport regulator to go easy on foreigners needing to speak English before they can claim to be a cab driver. This goes completely against what the country has just voted for. People will still use Uber because it’s cheap and convenient, but it has just managed to do the two things Brits hate most.

It’s the rich tech company that is new to town and telling us what we should do at the same time it is telling us we need to relax English-language skills among migrant workers. If they want to make it three strikes and then out, I suggest a photo call where the country manager washes a cheap battered “taxi” with the Union Jack doubling up as rag. That would sum up this app’s arrogance and stupidity in one.

 

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