Only a CNUT would hold back the waves of the sharing economy

Put the chainsaw down and step back

Police direct a cabbie at the Uber protest in London

Something for the Weekend, Sir? The Turtle-Necked Twats are having their bluff called at last. Taxi-hailing app developer Uber has been invited to rejoin the real world and the TNTs are in uproar.

London’s transport authority, TfL, has launched a public consultation into private-hire taxi services in England’s capital. As usual, Uber’s TNTs are convinced that it’s all about Uber.

For those who missed my earlier missive about misdirected disruptive technology, a TNT is that slimy consultant who has fooled your boss with incomplete arguments into paying vast sums of money for unproven tech.

He then proceeds to destroy your existing systems, persuade your boss to make a swathe of redundancies and then buggers off with his loot before the new systems have been built, leaving you to sweep up the rubble.

What the disruptive TNTs don’t know, possibly because they are not interested in finding out, or perhaps they know but don’t care, is that London’s regional government frequently redraws taxi regulation. Nearly always, the changes involve enshrining the right of independent minicab operators to co-exist with the licensed Hackney cab trade, while stamping out the dodgy and dangerous businesses.

What’s different this time? Nothing at all.

“Oh but surely it’s clearly a case of Luddite taxi drivers trying to hold back disruptive technology, like King Cnut and the incoming tide!” I hear some of you cry, revealing your cultural ignorance by mixing a dated cliché of resistance to industrial automation with an even more dated and entirely irrelevant demonstrative metaphor about the divine right of monarchy.

No it isn’t different this time. Drivers of licensed Hackney cabs are always complaining about the minicab trade, much as they do about weaving motorbikes, kamikaze cyclists, belligerent bus drivers, rickshaw riders and policemen who park in their taxi ranks while nipping out for doughnuts. For them, Uber is just another target.

Disclosure: I once worked on a newspaper for the London Taxi Drivers Association, and holy cow, do they like complaining about other road-users. Their special ire, however, is reserved for those who are not forced to jump through the kind of regulatory hoops that are inflicted upon licensed cabbies to earn their right to ply their trade.

What makes Uber a special target for licensed cab drivers is a belief that Uber isn’t just flouting the rules, as might the occasional dodgy minicab operator, but has been allowed to circumvent taxi regulation on an industrial scale.

The issue, then, is how such circumventing could have been allowed for so long before a proper consultation was launched. It all comes down to two issues, which have been causing friction between Uber and local authorities all over the world:

(1) Governments do not understand IT, let alone what the internet does or what a smartphone app is. For them, IT is all sparkly and mysterious. This is why governments and tax payers get let down and ripped off time and time again by cunning TNTs.

(2) TNTs do not understand accountable funding or operational sustainability. They are ignorant of the role of taxation in modern human society, and see regulation as an interference.

To summarise, while governments might still be limited by their last-century imagination, the likes of Uber seem to be stuck in the Victorian era.

Uber is a pretty good example of the ‘sharing economy’ put into practice. If I have a car and I’m driving into town, I should be entitled – in fact, in ecological terms, I should be praised – for offering to share my car with another commuter. And if that fellow commuter shares the cost of my fuel and mileage, why the hell not?

OK, let’s step away from distracting emotive issues surrounding cars and motoring for a moment, and instead let’s use a different ‘sharing economy’ analogy.

Let’s say you overhear that your next-door neighbour is about to hire a chainsaw for £80 to chop down a small tree in his back garden. As it turns out, you bought yourself a chainsaw for a similar task last year and now it’s just sitting unused in your garage.

So, just before your neighbour sets off to the hire shop, you pop round and offer to lend him yours in return for £30. This is much cheaper than the hire shop, he says, and accepts. You pocket £30 and he chops down his tree.

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