We’re not imbecilic enough to think we can prevent a single person from adopting this logic as their own: traditional taxis are expensive; public transport is the preserve of lunatics and the damned; cheap taxis would be brilliant; Uber offer cheap taxis; there are considerable downsides to Uber; they’re cheap, so sod it.
Why would anyone pay more for something than the minimum they’re allowed to? It’s a question that goes to the heart of who we are as ‘consumers’. Do you see the inherent value in something and believe you should pay what an item or service is worth? You’re probably at least vaguely socialist, even if the word conjures up images of bearded men printing pamphlets nobody will read. Or do you think the value of an item or service is not somehow built within it but decided by ‘the market’? You probably have a giant portrait of Margaret Thatcher in your house, and it’s a long time since that was OK.
Uber’s offering is straightforward: use a phone app to find a car registered with their service in your vicinity, and that car will take you where you want to go, for cheaper than a cab you’d hail on the street. You’ll need to know where you’re going, because chances are the Uber driver won’t given he only started doing this last week, though thanks to the London Assembly Conservatives for suggesting levelling the playing field by putting an end to the Knowledge. How much an Uber will cost you involves some mysterious combination of speed, distance, availability of cars in the area, whether it’s raining or Pancake Day and how successful the CEO was at the roulette table the previous night.
Your driver will have been through rigorous background checks, to make sure he hasn’t complained to any previous employers about working conditions or attempted to join a union. He could be a champion fiend in other ways of course, the criminal background checks are questionable at best, but what’s a cab ride without an edge to it? Boring, and who needs that at the end of a great night out with the girls?
And it’s cheap.
A black cab, however, is a relic. The driver will try and talk football to you all the way, he’ll go all round the houses to charge you more and you can’t even get one with your phone when you need one. Only of course there’s an app for that now too, most drivers have no interest in talking to you as you dribble and fart drunkenly on their back seat and, given they actually know the streets of the city thanks to the Knowledge the Tories hate so much, they could actually be getting you where you need to be quicker than if you had to Google Map it for some dickhead whose geographic knowledge is inextricably linked to the satnav he can’t stop talking at him in Mandarin. It’ll soon be moot anyway since the School of Knowledge is closing, literally and metaphorically.
Black cab drivers are self-employed and pay taxes like any other small business, and not many of them make such fabulous wealth from their job that it’s clear they could easily live off lower fares (though Uber fans will claim black cab drivers are minted to a man). Uber also pay taxes, “in full, in all jurisdictions they are due” as they no doubt put it when accused of being dodgy bastards (£22,134 on a £866,000 profit, though they argue it’s because of losses the previous year). They legally transfer profits to a Dutch sister company. Nice, thanks. George Osborne chuckles paternally at your mastery of international fiscal affairs.
But it’s cheap. Though not cheap enough it turns out, given people are now looking for yet more money off their journeys by sharing their Ubers with Christ knows who. If you have no concerns about the safety of ‘UberPool’, we would recommend you read this. And then think of the money you’ll save, obviously.
Think about the last time you did whatever job it is you do. Think about the effort you put into each task, from replying to emails to knocking up slidefuls of presentations, taking part in crucial meetings and generally making a good employee of yourself, and money for someone else.
Now, just for a moment, be honest with yourself. Do you think someone could have done all those things as well as you? Doesn’t matter who, just anyone given the training you’ve had. We all know we’re replaceable, that’s how they terrify us into behaving ourselves, so there must be people out there who could do your job as well as you. What if they offered to do it for less money than your company pays you? Would you say it was fair for your employer to replace you with the cheaper model?
What if they weren’t quite as good as you, but capable enough to get most of the job done to a satisfactory standard? Still fair enough? Because if at any point you’ve felt that little spinal shiver suggesting you’re one management shrug away from destitution, it might be worth thinking twice before firing up that app in an effort to save yourself £6 for a journey from Hammersmith to Harrow that might leave you with a sore arse.
Or maybe we just leave everything to ‘the market’. Sorry cabbies, it’s just the way the game works — if you can’t take the pressure of your job, ferrying ungrateful bastards around a city that seems to hate you, Iain Duncan Smith is peddling job advice at food banks now. You can use your comprehensive knowledge of the streets to find the busiest and most lucrative spot for your partner to attract businessmen to suck off to pay the kids’ school dinner fees. And though you’ve put your entire adult life into being a cab driver and dealing with all the shit people throw at you, ‘the market’ has decided punters deserve a simpler, more convenient service, so thanks for everything and the current is generally fiercest around Rotherhithe this time of year.
You don’t know Londonist very well if you think we don’t anticipate the howls of anger that will greet such a viewpoint. People will invoke Amazon to defend the tax point, because Amazon is the new Santa. They’ll claim cabbies earn a fortune, which is bollocks. These people will yell at us for being against progress, but what we’re against is blindly stumbling towards a worse London than we have now, for no other reason than we might be able to save a few bob.
Black cabs are fighting back, but without the support of the people of this city we are going to lose a fine service that is doing everything it can to keep up with the terrifying march of modernity. Give black cabs time to adjust to the Age of Cheap, and eventually you’ll come to appreciate their solid, dependable service.
If you don’t, black cabs will die, an honest occupation will go with it, Uber will put their prices up immediately, and the moment driverless cars become a reality they’ll be all over it like Cameron on swine (because if you think Uber cares about their drivers, you’re way off). And when your boss calls you into his office and tells you you’re being replaced by Sergei, who can’t speak a bean of English but by Christ can he Powerpoint, spare us the whimpers that your skill and experience make you worth that extra couple of quid, because you brought this on yourself with that little app you love so much.
Still, it’s cheap, right?
Got opinions about taxis? Transport for London is consulting on private hire vehicle regulations until 23 December.