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The taxi market in London is a key example of a culture clash between these two groups. The history of regulation in the London taxi market goes back to 1636. Following laws introduced by King Charles 1 (designed to reduce the use of hackney coaches in London for fear of congestion!) reform has been ad hoc. This all changed with the sudden arrival of smartphone apps, and the dramatic disruption that followed.
There are now many well-known brands operating in London. Some are focused on protecting and developing the black cab trade and playing by the rules; others seek to create new a market for minicabs and play by some of the rules; and some don’t even know what rules are.
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Whatever your view on each, the frustration from drivers, passengers and campaigners is clear to see. Regulators have yet to win the confidence of almost everyone connected to the sector – and failed to persuade almost anyone that there is a coherent plan to manage the many issues that are now confronting a vital part of London’s infrastructure. Tech is pulling the sector inside out, and fundamentally reshaping it – without passengers, and Londoners, having a say. Active engagement and thoughtful consultation is required.
This issue is not particular to transport in London. It is the elephant in the room of regulators working in a wide range of sectors and industries.
The taxi and private hire sector in London should be seen as a test bed for this issue.
Finding a solution before it’s too late
Policymakers should show leadership, work with the recent practical set of proposals made by Caroline Pidgeon AM and the London Assembly, and set out a clear timeframe for consultation, before leading to a dedicated ‘Taxi Bill’ in the next Parliament.
Crucially, the tech sector should be active participants in this process. Tech companies must be fully hardwired into the policymaking process – they should both listen and be listened to.
Finding a balance between innovation and established ways of working is far from easy. Not least when communities believe their heritage and history is being eroded; and when there are fundamental issues of safety and accessibility at risk. But it is an issue that policymakers and regulators must engage with now, before the market decides what is in its interest, rather than the public interest; and before today becomes a future none of us had a say in.
My own view is that this new tech should not be used to torpedo long-standing ethical considerations, or, in some way, be exempt from commonly accepted values and standards. In the taxi sector, this is about safety, accessibility, transparency and community engagement. However the sector evolves in the future, should these not still form the backbone of the industry?
Tech should disrupt markets, not destroy values. Will 2015 be the year of responsibility in tech?
Source: Chris Hall, Tec City News
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