The Conservatives are the party of the entrepreneur, the grafter, the innovator, which is why technology should be embraced – not feared. And why we should inherently come down on the side of the innovator – not the status quo.
Take the row over Uber, for example. Its arrival in London has provoked a strong response from taxi drivers and Transport for London, and the same controversy has raged in Cardiff since Uber announced its intention to launch here earlier this year.
Ultimately, all people want is access to a reliable, safe and convenient transport network and that’s why Uber deserves a chance in Wales.
It’s not hard to see why Uber’s competition is so concerned. As the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, said, ordinary hardworking people want choice and they want competition. The so-called ‘disruptive technology’ gives people that choice and frankly the public are voting with their feet.
Uber is now available in 58 countries and 300 cities worldwide, and recent estimates place its value in the region of $50 billion. All of which rather leaves its competition with two choices… Adapt, or die.
If that sounds cold hearted, it’s not meant to.
The traditional black cab is a wonderful thing, it’s part of our history, and in a sprawling, complicated, urban land mass like London clearly the ‘knowledge’ is a valuable tool. But the Mayor of London was right, the public has a right to choose between the high-end service offered by the hackney carriages and the low-cost convenience of Uber. The same applies here in the Welsh capital.
Competition is a good thing. Anyone doubting that need only consider the initial response of London taxis to Uber’s launch: an online app based service which will provide significantly lower fares for their customers.
Sadly, TFL’s proposals to deal with the ‘threat’ of Uber have been far from constructive; banning ride-sharing and imposing a minimum waiting time of five minutes even when cars are available won’t just harm Uber’s business model – it will compromise passenger safety.
Meanwhile, proposals to ban drivers from displaying their live location in apps make it clear that their target is technology, not fairness. These tactics won’t work of course, eventually technology sweeps aside all-comers.
You only have to look at the smart phone on your desk to understand why. It’s now a market place, library, bookmaker, banker, arcade, personal trainer and Walkman – all in one device. Only the foolhardy would place themselves on the wrong side of that curve.
Just as Easyjet took on the big airlines, and Airbnb has taken on international hotel chains, Uber now threatens the pre-eminence of the taxi firms; and Conservatives have a duty to allow the new technology to compete fairly.
Since the announcement this summer that Uber wants to launch in Cardiff its app has been downloaded more than 25,000 times locally, and you have to wish them well. I’d like to see local stakeholders embracing Uber and working proactively to get them here.
There is some opposition in Cardiff though, (amongst the city’s cabbies at least) and whilst I understand their concerns, there’s clearly huge demand for Uber’s product.
Sadly the case for the opposition has hardly been helped by the poor PR in the Cardiff press this month with reports that a small minority of taxis are refusing small fares in the city, just weeks after a spate of sexual assaults nearby. Clearly that’s a matter for individual drivers, not the wider community, but it does highlight the need for a flexible transport system.
The unions claim that when Uber arrives everyone will lose out, but I just don’t buy that argument. As a Conservative I believe that the free market makes people happier, richer and (of course) freer.
The price of that freedom, for the established cartel at least, is unavoidable disruption – as Boris said: “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, that’s it”. Better to manage that competition, then, rather than try to force a rival out of the market altogether?
As Conservatives we have a duty to level the playing field and to encourage competition between suppliers – not thwart it. Perfectly intelligent adults cannot be told how to travel, and with whom. It’s madness. No Conservative should stand for it.