Friday, 13 November 2015


I recently went out on a night in London with my Brother. It was the usual night out with him. Lots of alcohol; drinks at the start of the night at his house in London, bar then club. One thing was different. We decided to use Uber, a new taxi application, to navigate around. My brother had already used the service before and I had the app, albeit it I had never used it as they currently don't operate where I live.

After finishing at the bar the London underground was no longer running so we decided to try get a bus to the club. We ended up waiting for twice the scheduled time at which point my brother had had enough and ordered an Uber cab. Within minutes it arrived. We jumped in and got to our destination very much quicker and more reliable than the bus. The cost? Around £8 for a journey in Central London on a Friday night at around 1am and we arrived right outside the club.

Later that night we left at around 3:30am. Usually its a pain to get back to his house. Its either a night bus that takes an hour or trying to flag down or call a private taxi. Again tooled up with Uber we called a cab and it cost us around £13 to drive from south of the river just past Waterloo all the way back to the East of London on the other side of the river. Any other taxi would have cost a fortune by comparison.

Why do I mention all of this? Because various vested interests all over the world are in the process of using Government agencies to try and restrict Uber in the marketplace. Uber offers a fundamentally safer, more efficient and cheaper form of transport than currently exists. Instead of the taxi companies innovating or the Governments removing existing arcane regulations they are trying to stop or limit the service. Uber recently won a court case against the TFL (Transport for London), however the TFL are now fighting back further. They are trying to demand 5 minute waiting times - in the form of once the taxi turns up the passengers are not allowed to enter the vehicle for 5 minutes. The bogus claim is to state its a "safety issue". Last time I checked waiting around on the streets in London at 3:30 in the morning is less safe then being in a moving car.

Uber is the most valuable unicorn company with a valuation of around 50 Billion Dollars, a symbol of the recent tech boom. Its investors include Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Richard Branson to name a few. Theres even Shawn Fanning as an investor who you may remember created napster, another disruptive technology. Uber is nearly as valuable as British Petroleum, despite having 5% the number of employees and while BP generates annual profits of 4 Billion Uber yields non. Such is the power of software and in Ubers case the potential of future profits. Uber is a disruptive technology along with other similar companies in this space and will do huge good for us all.

They will make taxis safer. With ratings bad drivers can potentially be banned. It works two ways. Bad abusive passengers can also be banned. Currently there is nothing stopping an abusive passenger getting into a taxi on multiple occasions as there is no way for the taxi driver to communicate this information with other drivers. With Uber the person can be banned for their bad behavior as Uber tracks all this data. No more trying to hail down a cab late at night on the streets. With Uber you call a cab and get an ETA of when it will arrive. Not only that but you can see it real time on a map just before it arrives and go outside to get it. All Ubers cars are tracked some may see this as a curse and its possible alternative businesses could opt not to do this. But personally I value this. You can imagine a future where parents tell their young Children to get a taxi back after a night out. As it currently stands sometimes the child may pocket the money their parents give them or fail to organise a taxi in time. Well not with Uber, with Uber the parents would be able to track it all. All your previous journeys are there for you to view, time, cost; its all there.

Uber is very efficient. No longer do taxis drive round aimlessly looking for passengers. Ubers algorithms can now match up taxis with passengers in real time based on location, even before the current taxi journey finishes, its algorithms are already seeing potential next matches. Uber has recently proposed a car pool service, where it will match up passengers going in similar directions to the same taxi. This brings down the costs of fares for the passengers, gives a slightly higher rate for the taxi driver and is a more efficient use of petrol and road space. Ubers dynamic pricing system generates the correct incentives for taxi drivers to be on roads to match passengers real time demands. At busy periods Uber ups the price of journeys as an incentive for drivers to take to the roads. At quiet periods the price drops to avoid idle cars on the roads.

Uber are even advertising it's social benefits. Black people in America have claimed that existing taxi drivers would avoid them in favour of white people. Uber solves this as the driver has no idea who the next customer is and picks them up regardless of race, sexual orientation or appearance.

Like all disruptive technology the majority of us wins but there are a minority of losers. The established taxi model is broken, it can't be fixed, we can't undo Uber like technology. Until engineers solve self driving cars (and they are well on their way to doing this - Uber is also prototyping these) there is still a need for taxi drivers so rather than fight the new innovations, existing taxi drivers should join in the revolution. The existing regulations are broken and were never about consumer safety but about cartelising the work and limiting newcomers. Uber is breaking this and giving power back to the people. Drivers can work wherever and whenever and take more polite passengers. If they don't like a passenger they give them a bad rating and Ubers algorithms will not match them up next time. Passengers get a better service at cheaper prices. Business = Data and Algorithms. We're only just beginning to scratch the surface of this concept and change the world for the better.

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