Yesterday I had a pop at Uber for their ‘fierceness.’ At the risk of sounding like Glenda Slag, here is the other side of the story. I’ve always found the widespread warmth and support for London’s black cabs a little odd. On the rare occasions I do use them, I often find the drivers surly, unhelpful or outright whingers.
London’s black cabs are antiquated, uncomfortable, diesel-fume-spewing dinosaurs. They may have the turning circle of a kid’s scooter, but their design is 100% Morris Marina. Unable to negotiate speed bumps due to their prehistoric suspension you get bounced up and down in the back like a ping pong ball. They combine this with being outrageously expensive. The popular image of a London cabbie as a cheekie chappie with a lively opinion about everything under the sun is overly generous. These days the vehicles are driven largely by guys whose minds have been progressively denuded by non-stop consumption of talk radio.
Neither are they cheerful. They have a lot to be fed up about because like coal miners, steel workers - and also before long London Underground drivers - their jobs are under threat. And don’t we know it. Black cabbies are loud, indignant protesters in the vein of French farmers. When they don’t get their own way they get nasty.
It’s a mystery to me what so many London politicians feel it necessary to slip into cabbies’ pockets. The fact that when crossed they have the tedious habit of blockading Whitehall and Parliament Square with their vehicles may have something to do with this. Even Zac Goldsmith, the prospective Tory candidate for mayor, was purring about them last week. The smooth plutocrat remarked that they were the only vehicle he trusted to put his unaccompanied kids into without parental protection. Having inherited £200-300m, plus his non-dom status, from his dubious father Zac can afford to slip the grateful driver a fifty from his gold money clip to cover getting his offspring home from Harvey Nichols. And it’s more than likely these days that fifty quid will be what is required to travel more than a mile and a half. On fares they have been able to get away with blue murder.
Step forward Uber. Whatever you think about the way they have ignored regulators and the allegation that their drivers are supposed to be littering west London with plastic bottles containing their urine, Uber is the future. It is an efficient, highly useful and utterly logical method of getting people around 21st century cities. And, most importantly, far cheaper than black cabs.
Now you may think I’m an Uber dupe. But, actually, because my iPhone is full I cannot even download the Uber app. But on the one occasion I’ve been taken in an Uber by a colleague I was impressed. I’m surrounded by Uber converts who have tired of trying to find a way home on Thursday to Saturday nights when black cabs just aren't interested.
They’re more expensive, slower to arrive, more polluting, and have less entertaining banter. So what do we have left in their favour? The notion that black taxis are somehow safer than unlicensed vehicles. This doesn’t stack up, either. Uber drivers undergo exactly the same Criminal Records Bureau checks as licensed black cabbies.
They don’t like change. It came as no surprise whatsoever to learn that black cabbies had taken Boris Johnson’s decision to create a cycle superhighway to judicial review. Cabbies hate cyclists and, as we pedal for our lives, we are happy to return the compliment. It’s war out there. When one of them cuts me up on my bike I find a quick yell of ‘Up Uber!’ very satisfying.