Recently, London sent a shockwave through the world of transportation by denying the license renewal of ride-sharing giant Uber. Many thought Uber, despite it’s many public controversies, had become so essential to urban transportation systems that it was too big to fail. It’s scandals have ranged from spying on customers to sexism to a lack of passenger safety and in January 2017, more than 500,000 of it’s users deleted their profiles in a viral protest of their opportunistic surge pricing. Yet the service remained ubiquitous with an ever increasing presence as a transportation option. Uber, it’s competitors, and the whole ride-sharing sector of the transportation market are predicted to be a $6.5bn industry by 2020. How can cities manage the growth and demand of these services alongside the challenges?
London’s Primary Concerns
London has been a huge market for Uber, but it’s been plagued with ongoing poor relations with the city. Already a difficult place to drive, ride-sharing has contributed to increasing congestion. According to a piece by Wired, “By 2015, 78,000 private for hire vehicles choked the streets of the already congested city, and nearly one fifth of them Ubers.” Ride-sharing is now a traffic problem to be managed.
But on top of that, the Mayor of London cites specifically the safety concerns with the company, such as it’s poor reporting of criminal offenses and it’s inadequate background checks on drivers. In a letter to The Guardian explaining Transport for London’s (TfL) decision he says,
“As with every other sector doing business in this city, from the financial services to manufacturing, all companies in London must play by the rules and adhere to the high standards we expect – above all when it comes to the safety of customers.
Providing an innovative service is not an excuse for it being unsafe.”
In response, the new CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, wrote in an open letter “On behalf of everyone at Uber globally, I apologise for the mistakes we’ve made … You have my commitment that we will work with London to make things right.” As they move into negotiations, will Uber and TfL be able to find a solution? How will other ride-share companies change their operations to capitalize on this current gap in the market? Will London be able to better regulate ride-sharing or will public demand overpower the city? In “London’s Power Play Proves Cities Can Fight Uber“, author Aarian Marshall explores these questions and more. London is certain to be a space to watch for the future of ride-sharing regulations.
Attempting to Regulate
London isn’t the only city concerned about Uber’s operations; many cities across the globe are approaching increasing ride-sharing regulations in their city. Quebec has attempted to mandate 35 hours of training for drivers and impose the same background checks as it requires of it’s taxi drivers. In response, Uber has threatened to leave the province. On the west coast of Canada, ride-sharing services are still not operational in British Columbia. Again, public safety is cited as the primary concern, but solving the challenges of insuring vehicles used in this industry has also delayed Canadian roll-outs. Even in the hub of ride-sharing innovation, San Francisco, city officials are frustrated with the lack of regulation.
Some of the primary challenges of ride-sharing regulation will be made obsolete with the growth of driverless vehicles. If cars are self-driving, then driver safety checks will no longer be of concern. Ride-sharing companies and car companies alike are counting on this technology as the future of the industry- Nissan is developing a ride-hailing product, as is Tesla. Mercedes, already the owner of the car-sharing fleet Car2Go, is exceptionally well poised to enter the autonomous ride-hailing market- promising a launch within 3 years. But driverless vehicles create their own set of challenges- where do these vehicles drop off and pick up, how will these cause a redesign of a downtown core? How is passenger safety in a carpool ride going to be managed? Ride-sharing systems are likely here to stay, how will municipalities successfully regulate them and how will ride-sharing companies adapt to meet the concerns of local governments?