London’s Uber ban is a big Brexit mistake

That is the title given to my latest Bloomberg column.  Excerpt:

The new Britain appears to be a nationalistic, job-protecting, quasi-mercantilist entity, as evidenced by the desire to preserve the work and pay of London’s traditional cabbies. That’s hardly the right signal to send to a world considering new trade deals or possibly foreign investment in the U.K. Uber, of course, is an American company, and it did sink capital into setting up in London — and its reputational capital is on the line in what is still Europe’s most economically important city. This kind of slap in the face won’t exactly encourage other market entrants, including in the dynamic tech sector that London so desperately seeking.

I should note that I prefer London cabs, because of their higher quality service, noting that the people most hurt by this ban are from lower-income groups.


by higher quality service, do you mean entitled attitude, aggressive driving and mysteriously malfunctioning card payment machines?

Out of curiosity have you ever rode in a London taxi?

I have ridden in many London taxis and I can confirm black cabs should be avoided where ever possible. They are an almost certain rip off.

If you believed that you would not have taken so "many" cabs, given that minicabs and good public transport are alternatives.

Black cabs are expensive, yes.

I am in London for work and think the London taxis are great (but not as good as the Santander bikes for getting around).

I have no special insight on the Uber question specifically, but if your concern is that the new Britain appears to be looking out for the interests of the British, quel horreur!

His concern is that banning Uber is detrimental to the interests of the British. He explains why at some length. There's an argument that mercantilism is good for a nation, but Tyler would not agree.

Who are the "British"? The cabbies? The consumers of the service? The people that could drive for Uber?

And anyway, who is to decide what are the "interests" of a specific segment of population? There are no collective scale of preference, the collectives do not exist, only individuals can have needs and wants.

You socialist, nationalist authoritarian, you are on the wrong side of history. We might still be few, but we are the guys with the money, and soon with the guns.

"We might still be few, but we are the guys with the money, and soon with the guns."


+1 As if there's any force stopping these guys from buying guns now. At least the patriotards aren't afraid of including live ammunition in their LARPing.

"... who is to decide what are the “interests” of a specific segment of population? "

Not that segment, of course, says Labour.

In the UK right now, the Uber drivers are very mad about the upcoming ban!

The decision, if you assume it's political, was made by the anti-brexit London city government, not the national government. Does that alter the argument?

The argument is that Britain will not be any less prone to bad regulation outside the EU than it was inside the EU. Bad regulation being defined here as regulation that hurts the interests of the country as a whole, regardless of who writes it.

An abused spouse who left her partner is no less prone to abuse outside her relationship, but she's certainly less prone to abuse from her partner.

Good way to put it. I agree with Tyler that banning Uber is a terrible move, but I didn't get the connection to Brexit. Unless the EU prevents members from banning Uber, when part of the EU, Uber riders in London are at risk from regulation by three entities: London government, UK government, and EU. After Brexit, Uber riders only need to fight off two entities, the London and UK governments. I thought that Uber was already running into all sorts of regulatory problems in solidly pro-EU France.




Blaming brexit for the banning of uber by the liberal London government allows Tyler to signal and advocate for his free market ideology at the same time.

To call such a government "liberal" is reminder of how far removed classical liberal ideas are from American political life.

+1. Jason nails it. If Tyler had blamed the London government, which would be logical, he would annoy the right-thinking (i.e., left-thinking) people whose favor he wishes to enjoy.

+4. Reading the excerpt, I couldn't believe that Tyler would fail to mention that the decision was made by the ultra-anti-brexit London and explicitly approved by its mayor. So I read the entire article. But this is not mentioned.

Uber was banned by an anti-Brexit mayor and union friendly regulators. There is nothing new about this. The City aside, most of London has long been a bastion for the reactionary left. And it's getting worse.

Agreed. The Venn diagram of people who support Brexit and those who support the Uber ban would be a very small number of people. The two populations are almost diametrically opposite. This article is not good for Tyler's credibility I am afraid, he should be more humble about his lack of understanding of the situation. It makes him look like an "Economist Magazine Reader" level of knowledge.

"The two populations are almost diametrically opposite. "
Nonsense again! You're on a roll.

FWIW I support ride-sharing services and oppose Brexit... Uber however has blotted its copybook pretty badly, and deserves this.

Millions of people want to use a cheaper and more efficient car service just like many millions more use around the world.

Voluntary transactions in a free market.

To perceive this as someone deserving punishment is soft authoritarianism.

I don't know what it was like in London but in my country Uber would refuse to obey regulations, treated their workers poorly (reduced their pay rates without notice, refused to understand how their own rating system worked when ousting workers) and then when the govt changed the rules to make obeying easier they still refused to comply.

So if all the same stuff happened in London and the London City Council got fed up with them and banned them then I'd say they did a good job. Maybe the next company that sets up won't try and stiff their workers and refuse to comply with local regulations.

Right CD - people like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Daniel Hannan are also the leading campaigners supporting the Uber are full of "surprising" insights today.

Tyler understands the suitation perfectly. He understands that he needs to signal, and signal hard, at all times. He is now fully within the left and he is performing his function to define reality in any way that the left requires.

I think Tyler's point is that while the two groups may not overlap much, their ideology is in some ways more similar than either would want to admit.


(Or, if not, that's what his point should be. It doesn't really come across in the article, but I give him enough credit to assume that was a failure of communication rather than understanding.)

Are you sure it wasn't the Russian's fault?

It's sweet of you to grudgingly admit that banning Uber is a terrible idea, but to blame it on Brexit is -- very obviously -- insane.

You and Kruggo have your go-to excuse for everything that goes wrong in Europe for the next 20-50 years, but please at least try to apply it to things that are at least 10% applicable.

So, when talking about Uber in London, Prof. Cowen mentioned the euro?

"The new Britain appears to be a nationalistic, job-protecting, quasi-mercantilist entity, as evidenced by the desire to preserve the work and pay of London’s traditional cabbies."

Indeed. There are many other data points that suggest that the UK is moving in this direction (aside from the protectionist urges associated with Brexit). I've noticed that the rise of nationalist sentiment here in a variety of blatant and subtle ways.

The really interesting thing is the response of foreign firms to this. They are attempting to cloak themselves by pretending to be British. Case in point, Aldi, the very competitive German supermarket chain that has disrupted that sector in recent years. Since June 2016, Aldi's UK stores adopted signage that includes a Union Jack and proud declarations that much of their food is of British origin.

There's something about the transparent amorality of business that I find comforting. Move product, Aldi!

and proud declarations that much of their food is of British origin.


Grr. British food is some of the best in the world. It isn't 1955 any more.

Best in the world, just like their dental care.

Nah, but within nation variance in food quality many, many times between national differences. You can walk into any almost supermarket or cafe and buy better food than whatever slop Art is likely to think is food.

To Art it's always going to be 1955

The EU is explicitly protectionist, Many people are for Brexit for that reason.

Cowen is selling change in a world that's fed up with the consequences of change. Cowen's "dynamic tech sector" hasn't delivered flying cars, but instead 140 characters. People look around them and see a "dynamic tech sector" displacing high paying dependable jobs and replacing them with low paying gig jobs. People look around them and see a "dynamic tech sector" producing a few billionaires and lots of low paying gig jobs. People look around them and see a "dynamic tech sector" that is a glorified Madison Avenue trying to sell us goods made in China. The "dynamic tech sector": what is it good for?

Skype, mobile payments like venmo, actually good video games, the iPhone, the ability to instantly look up almost any fact in a tiny handheld computer, wifi on airplanes, instant navigation in the tiny handhold computer via satellite links, SQL, data visualization platforms, again seriously the ability to look up facts from a tiny computer in your hand, programmable robots that can do simple repetitive tasks, machine learning in translation platforms, quantum computing, downloadable ebook readers making you able to download books in an airport on one handheld device.....

Sometimes I can't tell if you're serious. Tech isn't just Facebook. It's such a boon to humanity I suspect sometimes you're a Facebook employee just trolling us.

It's literally the banking platform for the worlds poor.

Well said, not to mention the ag revolution, even in potatoes, which I think they are now growing with seed rather than tubers.

All true, but it has one big problem - it doesn't result in a tide that lifts all boats. The iPhone is great, but latest version costs $1000. That some people think that is almost free, like many of my FB pals, is a problem, especially when most people in the US do not have $450 to cover an emergency.

I had never used Uber before our recent trip to London for a friend's wedding. The bride's father, a good friend, said everyone uses Uber over here and showed me how to sign up. We used Uber five times in three days and the experience was always first rate. the longest wait we had was five minutes when we were coming back to our hotel from Kew Gardens.

Don't worry, next time you'll be able to use the "mini-cab" firms who run a roughly Uber-like service and have done so for years.

Everyone loves researching a new minicab service for every city they fly into.

Are you saying that it was beyond the bride's father to tell AG about, say, Addison-Lee?

Addison-Lee is twice as expensive, and less convenient.

if you're supporting the Uber ban, that is fine, but that doesn't mean that you get to make the argument that says the alternatives (for the consumer) are just as good. They aren't. That's why Uber has been so successful. Stick to the vague arguments about tax, working conditions, exploitation and safety, which also serve as a distraction from the real issue, which is the Black Cabs don't like the competition.

It is great news. Maybe now it will be possible to get through London without being stuck in endless congestion generated by the pestilence of Uber drivers and be able to walk down a major thoroughfare without choking on the fumes of their clapped out cars.

In the game of "who's the sniffiest?" I believe you have outflanked our genial host. Well played.

Touche. (Sorry, my 140 characters doesn't include an accent ague.) Meanwhile, although I am somewhat high-income, I will be low-income after visiting London since black cabs cost me 300 pounds a day when I am using them intensively. Phooey on that horrible mayor and I hope Uber wins its lawsuit.

Lol, have you ever heard of tube, buses, train??? in many cases faster than uber or marginally slower...

Tube, bus, and train are great for many journeys, and I probably use them 90% of the time. But sometimes, they just don't go where you want to go. Or they aren't running. Or I have a few bags, and two transfers plus ten minutes walk on each end isn't very appealing.

As for the black cabs, I'm sure in Tyler's experience as a tourist here, they've been great. They were certainly better than cabs I found anywhere else. I do find they're a little bit smarter on routes than the sat-nav the Uber guys use. But I live in Zone 2 now, not central but hardly the boonies, and I can't just walk out the door and hail a cab. Pre-Uber, I used the black cab haling app and got stuck in the rain for half an hour as one after another said they were coming then took another fare. (There was no bus to get me home from where I was.) The other mini-cab companies often have long waits or are even fully booked.

This isn't the end of the world, but it's pointless, stupid, and a significant pain in my ass.

No mention that this is policy from the Labour mayor, while the national government is Conservative.

Come on! Mr Cowen is now a journalist: lying - by implication or omission - is therefore all part of the game.

As usual, you utterly miss the point, obsessed as you are with party political considerations.

In reality, one of the fairly likely consequences of Brexit will be a Corbyn government, which is likely to make the mayor's Luddism seem of the mildest kind.

one of the fairly likely consequences of Brexit will be a Corbyn government,

You mean Brexit will give the British electorate a bad case of the stupids? You're scraping.


Not Brexit.

This is a bad headline. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Maybe this is a subtle jab at Khanites. "Banning Uber is as dumb as voting for Brexit. You're not as dumb as a Brexit voter are you?

Stupidity in defense of virtue is no vice....criticizing our side for their actions is no virtue.

+1 again.

Seriously, how hard is it to do a little research?

1. Banned by a Labour (anti-Brexit) Mayor... the pocket of Labour Unions (also anti-Brexit).... a city that that voted massively to Remain.

Yeah, such a damning inditement of Brexit, Tyler. Remember: Virtue, Signal, Manoeuvre!

wonder if it has anything to do with 1/7th of UK cabbies being "Asian," as white people there like to call Pakistanis

Wait. Cabbies are perhaps BrExit? Then they petition the anti-BrExit London major Khan. Khan, being a good pol, responds to these cabbies by adopting their position. So TC was right after all. Never underestimate a chess master like Tyler Cowen. They have a devious mind and have already considered all your obvious moves and then some.

"London’s ruling is one of the most aggressive to date. The decision pits the popularity of the company among millions of customers, against regulators and taxi drivers who want tighter controls." [linked article,not column]

I submit that reversing this is an easy win for May's government.

Millions of potential votes win over Labor regulators I'd say. Especially since this should be appealing to younger voters.

"I submit that reversing this is an easy win for May’s government." Yes, because having national government intruding on local government business is always a good idea.

Dearieme is right that in the bigger picture it's better to let London be London.

Nor reason not to poke fun at Khan for this though. It is not the most important issue of the day, and the Tories won't want to obsess over it: but it can help them little to make Labour look silly and obsessive. Every time something goes wrong they can say "well at least Khan saved you horrors of Uber!".

London cabs are priced at about 2X what New York taxis are making the London cabbies some of the most overpaid people on the planet. The London taxi industry would be destroyed by Uber .

A quick look shows that the decision was made by a local government entity, which to me suggest that this is a case of crony-socialism, protecting well established local players over a disruptive new player (and never mind the potential for new jobs, as welfare recipients are much more reliable as socialist voters than small independent operators).

To view a minor local bureaucratic decision as indicative of the post-Brexit industrial policy of the Conservative party is of course ridiculous and severely weakens any further points the article might want to make.

You say Uber passengers are the big losers. This is wrong. Uber is the big loser. It would be relatively simple for them to comply with the law, and not terribly expensive, but part of their business model apparently includes acting like a total asshole.

Also, for those who say black cabs are bad, have you ever tried convincing Uber that your account has been taken over, since you're now ordering rides in cities you've never been to, and your username is now in Russian? It's surprisingly difficult

Truly the fathers of western law and custom. It's illegal to do business if you're "an asshole."

The Magna Carta to outlawing firms cuz mah patriarchy and they took er jaerbs.

Well done, gentlemen. Bravo. From Dunkirk and El Alemein to farce in 3 generations.

Rule Britannia indeed.

...but it's okay for America to act this way.

London is the base for anti-Brexit and derides the Brexiteers as know nothings but when their own crony cabs are at stake from competition, well.....

It is worth looking at the mayor of London's comments. He seemed to detail at length that it wasn't an anti Uber play. the issue was that Uber had repeatedly failed to file their compliance's and reports. He also pointed out that Uber can still operate whilst the appeals process is going on.

The mayor has encouraged London to just accept terrorism and get used to it; how hard is it for London to get used to Uber's substandard paperwork?

When an Iraqi refugee expresses support for killing infidels (prior to actually trying to kill indlfidels, the London authorities patiently directed him to the nearest deradicalization program.

When an international company fails to comply with regulation 100-23 subsection 16b, they are banned from the land.

The trick to being accepted in London, it seems, is to demonstrably show that you will destroy wealth and hurt people..

I don't know how a conversation about Uber and London regulations / compliance morphs into a discussion of terrorism. I suspect that it is because people may have particular views on terrorism that they wish to express regardless of the channel. I think we should reflect on several things. What the mayor said was '“part and parcel of living in a big city” and encouraged Londoners to be vigilant to combat dangers.' I lived in London in the 70's and we took the same view on terrorism. The acts were atrocious regardless of the grievances that drove them. And yes, while being vigilant and some times scared we tried to live our lives as well as we could and as normal as we could.

The point is very clear. With London facing regular terror attacks, a foreigner with a predisposition to commit terror is indulged with classroom time.

When millions of people happily save money with a car service, the entire thing is banned and 40,000 drivers made jobless.

The London authorities don't really care about the safety of Londers so much as they want to pursue their ideological perogatives.

Quite simply, I don't believe him. As one friend of mine put it, "Safety and security" is the public unions' version of "Think of the children".

That said, I don't particularly trust Uber either. I do think that a significant part of their business model seems to be ignoring regulations and assuming they can get away with it. Even if the regulations are stupid, I'd rather see them work to reverse the regs, then start operations.

In public statements, the two are talking past each other, which I'm sure is no accident.

TFL's reasons for this "ban" are totally sensible, I've yet to hear anyone offer any substantial criticisms of them. Instead, people seem to think that because Uber is convenient it shouldn't have to obey any regulations whatsoever.

Here's a criticism: I don't want taxi companies to have to obey onerous regulations, full stop.

I'd rather pay less for a more convenient ride without paying a premium for a worthless protectionist moat arbitrarily enforced by bought politicians.

Everybody who has ever worked in a job where they may come into contact with children knows that they need to get a disclosure check before starting work. Every company knows they need their employees to get this before starting work. It's day one at HR school, really basic stuff that Uber aren't complying with, certainly not a worthless protectionist moat.

I hope you're not from the UK, because hilariously, every Muslim paedophile rape gang we have pulled off of the streets of Blackburn seems to have been based in the local taxi or minicab company. Fat lot of good your council sponsored safety checks did their legion of victims. The council did have a very cosy business issuing minicab licenses though...

If a Taxi company wants to advertise itself "child safe" and pay for certification, fine. For the rest of us, I'll take the lower fair on the grounds I'm not 14 years old.

Really? I find them hand-wavy and impossible to evaluate.

TFL say they don't like Uber's approach to background checks. Uber say their drivers get the same background checks as black cab drivers.

Apparently Uber failed to report some crimes to the police. But they did report them to TFL, who sat on them. Is there a clear requirement to report things to the police, or is this a pretext? I don't know.


No warnings or documentation for the "failures". Vague criteria. It's arbitrary power by a regulator entirely captured by the producer interests.

Ever heard of Lyft? Surely this encourages entry.

As a couple of people noted the decision was made by TFL and on reasonable grounds. This wasn't a refusal to licence but to re-licence (for another 5 years) due to persistent breaches in certain matters. There is a clear appeals process and I am pretty certain that Uber will make concessions/commitments to improve and will win the appeal. Linking this to Brexit is a real stretch.

Tyler still feeling bitch slapped over Brexit.

Category error, TC.

The people of London didn't vote for Brexit-the Northerners did.

And don't blame it on Bloomie's sub-editors

There aren't any.

NB this a particularly feeble effort-must do better.

You have made an error here Tyler - the London Mayor's office runs Transport for London, which has the regulatory oversight for Uber's operations and in fact made the decision not to renew the licence.

Please note that Mayor Khan is a passionate EU remainer and even considered the idea of a separate regulatory and legal framework for London to remain in the EU. This decision came from his office - this is a standard Labour Party policy response and based in their anti-US world view. This would have happened regardless of Brexit. It is a shame to see as uber drivers in London are blocked out of the black cab network and are suddenly looking at unemployment even though they provide a better vehicle, ride, quality control and payment service than black cabs.

this is all essentially true. i.e. "+1"

Haha. When even not particularly knowledge Americans are spotting that your conflation is utterly moronic, you know it's going to be at least a minor reputation fucker.

Tyler: I should note that I prefer London cabs, because of their higher quality service, noting that the people most hurt by this ban are from lower-income groups.

Do you think that lower-income groups disproportionately use minicabs? If they disproportionately use anything, it's public transport.

Uber is mostly middle income, and young, smartphone wielding professionals who want the convenience of a mini-cab on the go after a night out.

Tyler, wake up please, this article is just embarrassing, I know you can do better than this...

So, what's the problem?

Drivers are independent contractors, not employees. The demand is out there so independent contractors just need to collaborate with another cab dispatcher.

Uber isn’t a high-tech business — it is a send unorganized/unprotected-by-regulations labor on a race-to-the-bottom business (a.k.a., “the sharing economy”, a.k.a., reducing labor’s market power to zero). In case you hadn’t heard Uber is a virtual Ponzi scheme which is burning through billions of new investor dollars to stay afloat via subsidizing rides to 40% of costs. Only a matter of time before it runs out of money (suckers) unless it is successful at putting cabs out of business — in which case prices will go way up (drivers poor incomes?).

How would you like a world in which Uber survives — how would you like a world with no legitimate cab companies, with only ride share companies? That’s what Uber’s success can only mean.

I can't understand how this post by Tyler makes sense: the decision was made by Transport for London, which is answerable to the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who was one of the UK's highest-profile Brexit opponents.

The anti-Brexit forces made this decision, not the pro-Brexit people.

This doesn't really get at the reasons for the ban - Uber's apparent failure to take action against complaints of assault/harrassment by its drivers; its approach to vetting checks; its approach to explaining the regulator-dodging Greyball scheme.

Whether these complaints are well-founded, we'll presumably find out in the inevitable litigation. Transport for London could have gone in softer - but note that Uber is not actually banned yet (it can continue operating while its appeal is ongoing, although whether this news will reduce consumer demand I don't know).

More interesting, and probably more harmful, is TfL's recent hiking of operator licence charges, which will absolutely wallop big operators like Uber:

" in my country Uber would refuse to obey regulations, treated their workers poorly"; A libertarian would reply that the workers victimised by such ill-treatment are free to look for another job. The employees of Uber are not slaves you know

The decision by TfL to not renew Uber's license is TfL saying to Uber that they must improve this corporate behaviour.

The London Metropolitan Police wrote to TfL, which licenses taxi companies, to say that they were unhappy with Uber's behaviour in not reporting to the Police complaints of sexual assault which had been received by Uber. The Met reported three incidents this year which were not reported to the Police and the same Uber drivers then went on to be the subject of further similar complaints. The Met believes Uber withheld information which jeopardised passenger safety (by facilitating further assaults).

The decision by TfL is thus a vote against Uber corporate behaviour. Nothing more and nothing less.

Uber can now appeal the decision, within 21 days. Uber will then be allowed to carry on while the appeal process is completed, which will take months. During that appeal process Uber has the opportunity to give undertakings about its corporate behaviour and to propose how it will stop endangering passengers. If they do that then they may well get their new license. And Londoners will be safer in Uber taxis.

Uber will have been encouraged to behave in a way that is socially responsible and respects passengers. If Uber chooses to not discuss this issue then they will lose their license. If Uber had acted sooner when this issue was raised with them then they would not be in this mess.

Unfortunately many commentators have not chosen to understand the real issue and see all sorts of spooks about the UK, Black cab drivers..... whatever other pet theory they are trying to push.

I believe Uber have now understood the real issue and after their initial knee jerk reaction now understand that they need to accommodate the genuine concerns about passenger safety.

The letter from the Metropolitan Police to Transport for London detailing their concerns about Uber's policy of withholding information from the Police. Dated April 2017, 5 months ago. Why have Uber not taken action to address this issue rather than jeopardise their license?

To add to the chorus: this is all about the politics of London, an anti-Brexit city with a vehemently anti-Brexit mayor, and nothing at all to do with national politics. I know he's lost his marbles about Brexit, but TC should at least acknowledge that not only is this in no way a British government decision, but that 'Britain' has made no gesture to follow the same path. (And generally, taxi regulation has long been different in London compared to the rest of the country.)

Even enlightened centrists governing globalist city states are not averse to a bit of grubby rent-seeking when the opportunity crosses their path. Also, while the decision may be overkill, Uber's action/inaction was also important in getting to this outcome.

A bit late to the party.....

Are they worried about the future of 40K workers? Just a few months ago UBER was boasting about autonomous cars, drivers will become a thing of the past. So, since when they care about the future of drivers?

London black carbs are angry, xenophobic, dinosaurs.

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