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24 Jan, 2015 15:08

Uber: A small step towards world bankruptcy

Uber: A small step towards world bankruptcy

Taxi alternative Uber generates enormous controversy. Politicians ought to be looking to the future, not safeguarding an increasingly irrelevant status quo. Indeed their very future power depends on it.

The future brings bad news for taxi drivers, no relief for the ‘Uber’ classes and a further clear demonstration, as if one were needed, that the political classes are seamlessly out of step with the future of everything.

The Uber app delivers substitute taxis to compete with the licensed metropolitan monopoly. It is a fascinating solution supplied by that microcomputer in your pocket - the device which, apart from all manner of programmable pyrotechnics, apparently even includes a telephone! (Miracles will never cease). Politicians meanwhile fear Uber lest they lose votes from the established cabbies. Likewise the political blob always fears anything which has escaped their regulatory fiat.

Ironically licensed cabs have protested with strikes which ironically only encouraged stranded passengers to download an app to find a way home...like Uber, for instance. That’s not to decry the clear upheaval facing hard pressed taxi drivers but technological innovation drives change. That means “creative destruction” - ending old practices to begin the new...

Uber is fascinating precisely because absolutely everybody in the debate is arguing myopically. The righteous fury of the incumbent cabbie is undermined by a quick outbreak of perspective. The digitally illiterate political class has missed the point by a country mile.

In reality, human drivers are just oh so analogue. If not this year or next, certainly within this generation.

Uber versus Cab is headed for a pyrrhic victory alongside another glorious demonstration of the linear limitations of the political classes. It’s odd that politicians have missed the similarity with life on rails: Subway automation has already begun to squeeze out human train drivers even when (or precisely because) their trades unions have had a monopoly right to paralyze commuter movements with their strikes.

Uber versus taxi is thus a vacuous spat fuelled by opportunist political hot air.

However what is playing out will massively impact mobility but not because one human or another offer a metered fare...

Rather, the future of road transport is being shaped in Mountain View, California where Google’s driverless car project is advancing by leaps and bounds. GM is the latest big manufacturer to consider replacing the driver with a ‘droid.’ Thus humans will become redundant behind the wheel.

Instead of political opportunism in the Uber-taxi spat, governments ought to be worrying about a looming transport tax tsunami. For ‘civilization’ has become an ongoing morass of taxation as government has tried forlornly to match income with its reckless spending. Having taxed plastic bags and pretty much everything else, motorists have become a revenue cornerstone. Government has used a cloak of safety to fine drivers who may have done something genuinely stupid (driving under the influence) or who have erred slightly above arbitrary speed limits, many of which date back to the days of the Austin 7.

The problem, for government revenue? Driverless cars avoid many human weaknesses. Google, having mapped everything, know where speed limits change and have programmed driving computers to be paragons of virtue. Meanwhile advances in artificial intelligence show no sign of convincing computers to mix fermented beverage intake with motorized maneuvers.

The net effect of puritanical driving standards from the droids will be a catastrophe for government. Without the ability to exploit human frailty, traffic cameras will be redundant and central government will have a rather large hole in its revenues. Ironically the blob will probably slice its own throat in the process: preferring to regulate drivers off the roads to enhance safety. Thus we will encounter a curious state come 2030 or so - digital technology will have given us more freedom of information than ever before but we won’t have the freedom to drive our own cars on the public highway. In fact the cars will probably tell us where we can go.

Then again the government won’t be able to afford the public highway in the first place so will driverless cars actually kill popular mobility? It will certainly be another nail in the government’s ability to spend other people’s money, as other people won’t be doing the driving.

The good news is that the next time a cab driver bends your ear about the perils of Uber - just think in 15 years they won’t exist. Then again, nor will the current scale of government.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.