The news that Uber has lost its licence to operate in London may have black cab drivers rubbing their hands with glee, but London’s bus passengers might also have reason to celebrate.
Private hire vehicles such as Uber's are exempt from certain parking and stopping regulations. They can pick up, drop off and wait for passengers on single or double yellow lines; on single or double red lines; in parking bays; in loading bays; and in bus lanes. In fact, Uber drivers are not just permitted to stop in these areas, they are encouraged to do so in Uber's official guidance documents.
Uber currently operates 45,000 vehicles in London. When these vehicles block bus lanes and other restricted areas, it plays havoc with bus schedules and causes significant traffic congestion.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest ride-hailing companies such as Uber increase congestion and have a heavy environmental impact.
Traffic congestion in San Francisco increased by 62% between 2010 and 2016, at least half of which was attributable to just two companies – Uber and Lyft. An investigation by the Massachusetts department of public utilities found that in 2018, ride-hailing companies had a net carbon footprint of nearly 100,000 metric tons of CO2 in the state of Massachusetts alone.
These companies often claim to positively impact traffic congestion and the environment by encouraging ride-sharing and reducing consumer reliance on private vehicles (and therefore – potentially – car ownership). However, data obtained by former Uber driver James Farrar after a lengthy legal battle with the company, shows that Uber drivers in Glasgow, Nottingham and London had passengers on board for just 42% of their shifts. The drivers spent more than a third of their time cruising for work and almost a quarter of their time driving to pick-ups.
Researcher Bruce Schaller says ride-hailing companies account for a 180% increase in driving on city streets, and that 60% of users would have taken public transport, walked or biked if ride-hailing services were unavailable to them.
In his 2013 Ted Talk, Mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa argued that 'an advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.'
An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.
Businesses that encourage private car use over public transportation are bad for congestion, bad for the environment and bad for our cities. Businesses such as Uber, that use VC funding to lure passengers away from public transport and subsidise the use of private hire vehicles, even more so.
Of course, Uber won't go without a fight. It will appeal TfL’s decision not to renew its licence, and it's business as usual for London's Uber drivers in the meantime.
If Uber's appeal is rejected, there are plenty of lesser-known ride-hailing companies operating in London, such as Kapten, Bolt and shared ride service ViaVan. Another, Ola, has just been granted a licence to operate by TfL. But whether any of them can achieve the brand recognition and widespread usage of Uber remains to be seen.
Hopefully, the new wave of up-and-coming ride-hailing firms will learn from Uber's mistakes and operate with stronger ethics and consideration for all road users. After all, is it right for 80 people on a bus to be inconvenienced by a single taxi cab passenger?