Uber is No Longer Available in London: Good for the White Cabbies, Bad for Minority Cabbies
By Ridhi D. Madia, Student Writer for Volume 21
Since Uber came to London, there has been a constant cultural and economic tension between the drivers of the local cabs known as ‘Black Cabs’ and the newer generation of drivers that drive via Uber. Uber’s recent ban in London will further escalate these tensions.
Although Uber is a well-known ride-share giant, it has been banned by various international governments. London is another city in the series of recent cities (i.e. Delhi, India and Austin, Texas) that refused to renew Uber’s license to operate. This will no doubt have a huge impact on the company because London is Uber’s largest European market. It had approximately 40,000 drivers in the city and serviced 3.5 million customers who used the Uber app at least once every three months. The official statement from the Transport of London, the agency that regulates the city’s taxicab system, stated that Uber was not “fit and proper.”
It is no secret that over the last couple of years, the company has faced many scandals and lawsuits involving complaints regarding sexual harassment and aggressive workplace culture. But what is discussed less is how Uber socially and economically impacts the minority populations in these large cities. In London, while most black cab drivers are “white and British,” most Uber drivers are nonwhite immigrants. The local cabbies feel threatened that their way of life is being threatened by the competitive rates of Uber and its drivers. In other words, the drivers of the black cabs feel that Uber is not just killing their business model but “killing a culture” that dates back to 1634.
There is no doubt that the process of becoming a black cab driver is more rigorous than that of becoming an Uber driver in London. “To earn a badge, cabbies spend years memorizing some 25,000 streets and 100,000 landmarks for ‘The Knowledge’, the world’s toughest taxi exam.” The cabbie then spends the equivalent of $58,000 dollars buying a black cab. Furthermore, the black cabs are not equipped with GPS navigation devices so the drivers must have every inch of the city memorized. Compare this with Uber’s model— the driver must possess a valid driver’s license, complete a background check, and pass a topography test, which is much less rigorous to ‘The Knowledge’. Furthermore, the Uber cabs must have a GPS device in them so the drivers do not need to memorize the directions.
While the ban may seem to help these local cabbies maximize their higher investments in the business, it disproportionately impacts the minority and immigrant drivers of Uber. In recent years, the tension between the two groups has led to an increase in the amount of hate speech directed towards minority Uber drivers in the recent years. Although this could also be due to the recent aggravated political climate in London, it will not help to diffuse the situation knowing that approximately 40,000 Uber drivers are now unemployed. Statistics show that these drivers usually do not have a high level of education or specialized skills. While Uber’s competitors in London (Hailo and Lyft) could expand their operation by hiring these newly unemployed drivers, there is no guarantee at the moment that they have enough capital to do so. With a higher unemployment rate in the minority and immigrant population in London, it is likely that tensions between the two social groups in London may escalate. Minority and immigrant drivers will be more harshly impacted by this ban than the London cabbies, the question now is: what comes next for these newly unemployed drivers.
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