TFL’s decision to revoke Uber’s London licence at the end of September is major news, with media outlets repeatedly covering the story, petitions directed at TFL and Uber alike, and social media in a frenzy, followed by editorial analysis of the decision and yet more coverage on Radio 4 this morning.
Given Uber’s recent woes (including but not limited to sexual harassment, corporate impropriety, dubious operational practices and high profile workers rights’ cases) it has been a hell of a year for the ride-hailing platform. But few expected this blow to the business (except perhaps London’s black cab drivers who furiously campaigned against Uber and its threat to their dominance).
For us in the Sharing Economy, the ruling provokes mixed feelings. On the one hand, Uber has become ubiquitous in London lives, allowing the city to travel by cab cost effectively and efficiently at any time of night or day, and for many women safely with the reassurance of knowing that your driver and journey are tracked. It represents much of the changing face of service provision, dis-intermediated commerce, on-demand culture at its purest, and is a perfect example of how gig working opens up opportunity through innovation and shared resources.
Yet Uber’s stratospheric growth and market dominance, the plight of drivers and their right to fair treatment and benefits, shady business practices, documented risks for women passengers, and a questionable corporate culture resulting in the resignation of the company’s CEO, makes many of us uneasy of association with a platform business decreasingly representative of the principles and shared values that attracted entrepreneurs, workers and users to the Sharing Economy in the first place.
The People Who Share works every day to promote values of sustainability, community and trust in our commercial dealings. By placing people and the planet at the forefront of any venture we work with, we can all profit from the growth of the sector, the fastest growing economy since the Industrial Revolution. When we advise businesses entering and operating in the sector, ensuring that these principles are embedded in corporate culture, communications and commercial strategy is key. This forms the bedrock that ensures longevity and commercial success within the Sharing Economy precisely because people – customers, users, participants, whatever you want to call them – want something different from the brands, products and services they purchase and use. We are tired of being taken for a ride simply for a supplier to make money.
My sense is that TFL’s announcement does two things. Firstly, it opens up a negotiation process to force Uber to address the snowballing concerns around safety, workers, practices and dominance. But equally, it presents an opportunity for Uber to renew itself, demonstrating that far from being a pariah like entity representing the worst of capitalist excess, it is actually an agile, forward looking, community focused organisation, able to adapt and change to serve the world it exists in and therefore ensure its position as the ride of choice for not just Londoners but people across the globe. The timing of this, as new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi takes the driving seat, is aligned beautifully, marking a new era for this the most high profile of platform based businesses. Where Uber first saw an opportunity to radically overhaul city travel, let it now see that big business can also be inclusive, safe and efficient, respecting and reflecting its workers, users and the communities they operate in. It’s the direction of travel.
All references to driving and routes intentional (however lame).