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I have no sympathy for people who complain about ‘sharia Uber drivers’

25 November 2015

5:20 PM

25 November 2015

5:20 PM

Actress Frances Barber has complained about her taxi driver after a night out in town, tweeting:

The man had allegedly told her she was ‘disgustingly dressed’ and that ‘women should not be out at night’. This was after she had remarked about the weather being cold.

That’s the problem with liberalising the taxi market to let any random person drive you around – it reduces the level of trust. As Rory Sutherland explained in this magazine a couple of years ago, trust is extremely important to capitalism and that’s why having hurdles such as the Knowledge is necessary:

‘Reciprocation, reputation and pre-commitment are the three big mechanisms which add to trust. You can use a small local firm which needs your loyalty. You can use someone larger with a brand reputation. Or you can trust someone who has made a big investment in getting a badge, and stands to lose everything if caught cheating.’


On the other hand perhaps technology, and the universal system of rating each other online, has changed all that, and we should just accept that Uber is the future.

But, and I know I’m a hopeless reactionary who’s on the wrong side of history, and it’s 2015 and everything, but if people want a fully-trained driver who knows what he’s doing, has invested both his time and money in his career, and is licensed, then get a black cab. Uber is not a taxi service; it’s merely a mechanism to hire some random guy to drive you around for a pittance – don’t be surprised if he’s not quite possessed of a Morgan Freeman level of repartee and diligence.

There is also the ethical question. Janice Turner recently pointed out in the Times that her friends ‘wouldn’t grind an unfairly traded coffee beam, they champion the living wage and want to tax global evaders like Starbucks and yet Uber leaves such principles squished in the road’.

Like all Silicon Valley companies, Uber promotes fashionable social justice causes while in practice doing the most un-left-wing thing possible: doing skilled working-class people out of jobs.

So why isn’t there wider sympathy for cabbies? Is it that middle-class preference for having more deferential and undemanding foreign workers serving them? If it is, then that’s pretty short-sighted. Black cab drivers have always been the butt of humour because of their supposedly lower-middle-class right-wing views, although in my experience I can only remember one cabbie being very political and it was to express his disgust for the royal family.

English lower-middle-class bigotry is a legitimate target for humour, but has anyone engaged in political debate with mini cab drivers from the second world? I’ve had some interesting chats – most recently there was a lovely Iranian guy who hated the religious authorities and wanted to restore the Shah, which I’m totally down with – but I’ve also spoken to people who believe the Mossad were behind 9/11. Imported prejudices are not so much a target for Radio 4 comedy, but as Europe is finding out, these days they are much more extreme and dangerous.

Anyway, I had that al-Baghdadi in the back of my cab recently – lovely bloke.


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