Most popular ▴ See a list of all my posts! The experts got it wrong. Why are there no great Windows 10 apps? How moving the Capital helps Hartlepool. Gender bias calculator The Centre of the UK Defending Uber BusTracker Imagination not needed. Part 1. Imagination not needed. Part 2. Imagination not needed. Part 3. Why Birmingham fails Who is London? Innovation on buses. Heathrow

PDFs and Data ▾ Global open data and PDFs. Improving PDFs for Science. Improving PDFs for Planners. PDFAttacher. A Clearer Plan Hybrid PDFs PDF test-off. PDF Profiler Making PDFs play nicely with data

Housing ▾ Counting households. 1. Counting households. 2. The housing market works (where we let it) Hexmaps Adonis is wrong on housing Car free Birmingham

Regional Growth ▾ Measuring tech in the UK and France in 10 steps. Defending the Zombie graph. Channel 4 must move to Mancheseter Measuring innovation 1: meetups Measuring innovation 2: scientific papers. The UK city-size abnormality. Cities not cheese: why France is productive. How moving the Capital helps Hartlepool. Industrial Strategy. Leeds Growth Strategy 5: Limits. Leeds Growth Strategy 4: Focus. Leeds Growth Strategy 3: Inclusive growth. Leeds Growth Strategy 2: Where to grow? Leeds Growth Strategy 1: Why grow? Imagination not needed. Part 1. Imagination not needed. Part 2. Imagination not needed. Part 3. Inclusive growth. The BBC in Manchester 1 The BBC in Manchester 2 What works (growth) North-South divide: we never tried Imitating Manchester Why Birmingham fails Who is London? Researching research Replacing UK steel The Economist & The North The State of the North, 2015 Move the Lords! Calderdale Digital Strategy Maths of inequality Income by MSOA Heathrow and localism The NorthernPowerhouse Centralism and Santa Claus Yorkshire backwards London makes us poor

Transport ▾ Crossrail 2: Where trust in experts dies. Pacers: crap trains, worth keeping. A Yorkshire transport policy. Stop telling me to learn from London. Fixing it ourselves: bus data in the North. Open fare data will be hard. Transport is too complex! Investment is political London loses when it blocks Leeds' growth The Centre of the UK Defending Uber BusTracker Train time map What works (growth) The Value of Time Innovation on buses. Heathrow 1975 WYMetro Plan

Politics & Economics ▾ GDP measures are like toilets. The UK's private postcodes restrict innovation. Yorkshire could learn from Ireland's success. Alternatives to GDP are a waste of time. Fiscal balance in the UK "Not like London" Innovation takes time to measure Fifa and the right In defence of the € GDP mystery Liberal protectionists 5 types of EU voter Asylum responsibilities STEM vs STEAM The Economist & Scotland BBC Bias? Northern rail consultation What holds us back? Saving the Union Summing it up

Positive ▾ Bike Lights Playful Everywhere Greggs vs. Pret Guardian comment generator Consult less, do more! More things for Leeds! Cartoons PubQuest: Birmingham

Tech ▾ What's holding back opendata in the UK? Anti-trust law saved computing 1 Anti-trust law saved computing 2 Open Data Camp Cardiff Why are there no great Windows 10 apps? Tap to pay. Open Data in Birmingham Defending Uber BusTracker Train time map Building a TechNation How the UK holds back TechNorth GDS is Windows 8 OpenData at the BBC SimFlood SimSponge See me speak Digital Health Leeds Empties Leeds Site Allocations Building a Chrome extension I hate webkit Visualising mental health Microsoft's 5 easy wins Epson px700w reset Stay inside the Bubble

Old/incomplete ▾ Orange price rises The future of University Cherish our Capital Dealing with NIMBYs Sponsoring the tube Gender bias calculator MetNetMaker Malaria PhD Symbian Loops Zwack Kegg Project The EU Eduroam & Windows 8 Where is science vital? The Vomcano 10 things London can shove Holbeck Waterwheel

Last modified: 07 February 2017

Defending Uber

I haven’t owned a car for years. I mostly walk, cycle, or take the bus. But I use Uber sometimes and I always like it. It saves me looking for a local taxi number, the service is reliable, and I avoid having to describe where I am when I’m in a strange city.

There’s a lot of useful innovation in the Uber app, both for passengers and for drivers.

But I’ve read quite a lot articles by people who don’t like Uber at all, and I’ve been trying to figure out if I disagree with them or not. It’s been quite hard, I can follow the arguments they make but none of them feel very relevant to my life or the data in Leeds and Birmingham.

The case against Uber

I’ve heard three big arguments.

1. Uber offers especially poor conditions to their drivers.

2. Uber exploits loopholes in licensing to undercut licensed taxis.

3. Uber’s huge operating loss makes public transport unviable in the short-term even though it is more efficient in the medium-term.

The third point is the most interesting but I’ll get the first two out of the way quickly and come back to it.

Uber operates in a fair and highly-competitive marketplace.

Leeds City Council releases open data on the number of licensed taxis on Data Mill North. Uber is the second largest firm in the city but it has just a 15% market share. It is usually a more expensive option than its private hire competitors and its market share seems almost constant; it’s risen by one percentage point in the past 16 months.

As long as drivers and user can choose, and especially since a UK court ruled that Uber drivers are employees, this seems fine.

I don’t see any evidence that Uber are using loopholes to undercut competitors either. In Leeds they and their drivers are licensed in the same way as all other private hire drivers and licensing fees are similar (between £200 and £400 per year) for private hire and Hackney Carriage drivers. So this seems like a fair playing field.

Now onto that third point. It’s basically an argument against dumping and I think there’s a lot to it. There’s a big argument that in the middle of the 20th Century cars displaced much more efficient forms of urban transport due to a similar kind of short-term dumping. Is Uber doing the same? I don’t think it is where I live.

Taxis are a luxury in London, but a lifeline in Leeds.

I’m going to rant for a couple of paragraphs now. It’s unavoidable I’m afraid.

For decades people like me we have asked for the right to regulate bus services in places like Leeds and Birmingham. We think that our cities, if given the freedom to, could deliver innovations like the Oyster card and the excellent services and low fares enjoyed in London. But it remains illegal under a UK law from which the capital is exempt.

We have also argued constantly for a level of investment in public transport comparable to London, and never received it. Now in Leeds, 30 years after the first plans to build a tram network, the city has the money to build a trolleybus system and is barred from doing so by the UK government. Leeds is the largest city in Europe with no public transport system. The situation is farcical.

And so while I can imagine the logic — if not the practicality — behind fears that Uber might undercut public transport in a city like London, I cannot share those fears in Leeds and Birmingham. Since there is almost no public transport to displace, it cannot be displacing it.

But there’s another argument that clinches my support for Uber.

The best data we have on the demography of taxi use comes from the 2011 census, in the methods of travel to work section. This shows that in London taxis are a luxury used by the rich. But in Leeds they are a connection to employment for the poor. For many, taxis are the only real competition that exists to restrain private bus companies’ price rises. Most people in Leeds that for many trips, especially with more than one person, a taxi is just as cheap and much more convenient than the bus.

And so, while good public transport remains an option that is unavailable to England’s large cities, I will continue to support Uber. I’m not sure why a multinational chooses to lose money helping poor people in Leeds get to work, but I’m glad that it does.

blog comments powered by Disqus