The Argument Against Uber

by The Editor


Today, Canberra’s taxi drivers went on strike to protest the potential arrival of the richest enfant terrible, Uber.

So who’s side are you on?

To put it simply, there’s no surprise that people across the world have leapt on the Uber bandwagon. With its simple interface and cashless operation, there are so few barriers to using the service that the start-up is now a absolute behemoth with backing from some of the worlds largest companies and venture capitalists.

Starting in Kingston this morning and (somewhat ironically) setting up base near the Railway Station, around 200 drivers gathered as part of a peaceful protest to discourage the ACT Government from allowing the service to compete within the Territory’s boundaries. They’ve got a few points to make, and for all of us who have been delivered home safely by a patient Canberra taxi driver, it’s worth a moment to listen to their concerns.

Uber provides a real conundrum – for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s totally unregulated. Sure, the company spruiks some PR waffle about booting naughty drivers off its app, but that’s hardly close to what a regular taxi driver has to go through. It’s a fair argument that Uber customers are not really protected.

Secondly, it does damage the investments of existing operators who have conducted business for many years within the existing laws. They’ve spent money they’ve done the right thing and, as such, have a right to have their investments protected…

…to a degree.

Here is an excerpt from an email sent out by Uber in response to the protest:

Today, taxi owners in Canberra went on strike to pressure the Government to limit your choice of how you travel around your city. 

The leaders of these strikes are investors, not drivers; the same investors who have kept drivers’ wages low and working conditions poor for decades before Uber’s arrival.

They are trying to protect their investments by denying the people of Canberra the same safe, reliable and affordable rides that over one million Australians enjoy in cities across the country. 

Interestingly, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has frequently spoken of a desire to integrate Uber into Canberra’s transport mix. He clearly recognises a future years beyond this current stoush where the appropriate regulatory framework has been developed and the idea of the city ever being so anti-competitive is a distant memory that resides purely in the history books.

This is important. Uber is a highly disruptive service that is highly inevitable… you simply can’t hold back the tide. It adapts a model of buyer/seller rating that made eBay such an immediate success. The concept is democratically simple by puts the user in control, and adds competition to market pricing that simply doesn’t exist at the moment.

Uber in Canberra can be done, but we’d simply like to see some give on both sides. Imagine a scenario where the start-up is perhaps a little more patient and the existing cab operators are given some time to adapt their business model so that it can compete.

This represents an opportunity for Canberra, as a small market, to demonstrate leadership and create a working model for cities all around the world. The question is whether or not – across all parties – there is sufficient appetite to do it.