It’s not often that Britain’s regulators stick their head above the parapet to criticise each other. But yesterday Alex Chisholm, the chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority, chucked a welcome hand grenade into the debate over London’s taxi market.
The capital’s cabbies have been up in arms over the growth of private hire apps like Uber which have been muscling in on their patch by offering lower prices at the touch of a smartphone button.
In September Transport for London relented to pressure and published a list of proposed regulations which could stop the apps in their tracks. These include forcing drivers to wait for 5 minutes before collecting a fare and forcing them to allow advance bookings, which Uber doesn’t currently do.
It’s hard to see how any of these things will improve the lives of consumers, so it’s not surprising to learn that Chisholm disagrees with them. What is surprising is just how vocal he is being. ‘We do not serve the interests of the public or the wider economy if we slam on the brakes,’ Chisholm wrote in a Financial Times op-ed, adding that TfL’s proposals would ‘artificially restrict competition’ and prevent developments that would be beneficial for the consumer.
‘New taxi business models have the potential to increase choice and deliver what passengers want: shorter waiting times, lower prices and increased responsiveness,’ he wrote. ‘But the proposed rules would undo much of what is novel about these businesses.’
The CMA can often seem like a hindrance to businesses, slowing down takeovers and demanding concessions. But in this instance Chisholm is spot on. If it has consumers' interests at heart then TfL would be wise to heed his words.