The Battle for London: Uber vs. TFL

On the 30th September Uber launched a petition asking TFL to reject proposals to crack-down on the service.

This is a fascinating battle-ground; innovative services disrupting the market-place vs. (perceived) risk of Uber monopolising and removing a competitive market-place. Let’s look back at the great disruptions of industry that have transformed how we live and what we expect:

  • Ford Cars, what did that do to the bicycle?
  • The printing press, what did that do to word-of-mouth stories?
  • Electricity, what did that do to the candle?
  • The Macintosh, what did that do to typewriters?
  • The Internet, what did that do to books?
  •  Air B’n’B, what did that do to hotels?

The list goes on, and these disruptors are seen as progress.

So let’s look at what TFL is proposing against the backdrop of Garrett Emerson’s (TFL’s COO for surface transport) statement:

“The consultation sets out a number of ways that standards across the industry could be raised, ensuring Londoners can continue to benefit from the service provided by licensed private hire vehicles”

  1. A minimum wait of 5 minutes – is that better than 0 minutes?
  2. Not show vehicles available for hire visually – I use this to inform my decision to take an Uber vs. battling the tube or walking – and can’t we see black cabs at the end of a street?
  3. Work for one operator at a time only – as a customer is this industry restriction beneficial to the service and the value of keeping London moving?
  4. Controls on ride-sharing (where multiple customers can share a ride) – on the grounds of?
  5. Ability to book up to seven days in advance – this isn’t Uber’s USP, if a provider thinks this is a competitive advantage then let them do it.

In the spirit of Garrett Emerson’s statement, I think it is the approach to ensuring the improvement of industry standards that is flawed. It is not about taking down or limiting new ways of working. More, driving and supporting other competitors to compete and differentiate. In a digital era, as consumers, we can, and do make informed decisions about purchases. The competition work hard to be the best service, product, cost, experience to win our choice.

Let them compete. Who really needs protection here? Is it the customer who’s embraced disruption? Or the disrupted who want protection of lucrative licences?

Maybe we should stop calling innovative services and products disruptors – maybe these are the real ‘progressors’. Remember, nobody knew they wanted or needed a mobile phone 35 years ago.

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