Industry needs collaboration and a unified voice to fight back against ‘game changer’ Uber
Representing Addison Lee, Dominick Moxon-Tritsch’s keynote could have been interpreted as a call to arms; his assessment of Uber’s operations, ride sharing culture both in Europe and North America plus the prospect of more lenient UK legislation post-Brexit pulled no punches.
His opening assertion that there was no magic bullet to challenge Uber highlighted the complexity of the issue. In Moxon-Tritsch’s words Uber was “a game changer” but its pricing structure was seeing “the private hire sector cannibalising journeys from mass transit… something TfL and DfT should be extremely concerned about.”
He also touched on the future prospect of ‘light touch’ regulation as part of a less costly “third tier” regulatory classification. With potential for absolving operators of considerable risk and cost, this puts the private hire and hackney businesses at a further competitive disadvantage.
Moxon-Tritsch’s observation that the incoming DfT secretary of state, Chris Grayling, could favour future regulation promoting Uber-friendly “flexible employment opportunities” does not bode well for an industry seeking the Government’s ear.
His solution? Despite identifying a lack of a unified industry voice, Moxon-Tritsch was clear, saying “…now is the time for banding together into effective trade associations to make the representations that will make a difference to the Department for Transport and TfL.”
From the panel, iRide’s Duncan Blackett was an advocate of consolidation, although he urged caution when merging different company cultures. He acknowledged the threat, saying “we are under siege from Uber,” but detailed positive business case studies, diversification and the use of aggregators to reinforce the need to maintain competitive.
Joe Polley from Parker Car Services also advocated aggregators, saying “the idea that the guy down the road can now be a national operator and funnel his business through an aggregator is phenomenal - and that’s how we keep business.”
Voicing a smaller operator’s view, Jackie Fletcher from Spotty Cars cautioned that “while aggregators had their place, they’re still in a way taking our work and selling it back to us.” She was more positive on the desire to collaborate - if not merge - with others, emphasising the need to present a united front ahead of increasing costs, competition and regulation.
Playing to your strengths was also advocated by Veezu CEO Paul Ragan, along with “taking a holistic” approach when promoting services and seeking new revenue streams. This need to focus on core competences and being more entrepreneurial - for example, promoting cash bookings as a way to trump Uber - was echoed by Blackett.
Closing views from GMB Union’s Steve Garelick echoed earlier concerns about the increasingly tough operating environment, while he and Moxon-Tritsch repeated the need to become more organised as an industry - something everyone acknowledged the black cab community has used to its advantage when engaging with TfL.
Fletcher reiterated the need to be a member of trade body to help affect change, while Garelick spoke passionately about challenging the black cab’s dominance through social media and, even, direct action.