A new normal
Catherine Mitchell, IGov Team, 12th May 2015
I am definitely not a pioneer when it comes to technology but I was hugely impressed as a first time user of Uber. On an overly ambitious afternoon walk from Greenwich to London Bridge on Sunday, a friend and I found ourselves on a lonely stretch of the Thames Path half an hour before our dinner reservation. My American friend called up her Uber account which said there was an Uber Cab 3 minutes away. Sure enough within 5 minutes we were on our way to the restaurant. The Uber driver knew ‘Christine’ and her 5 star rating, and we knew his name, car and his rating and the estimated cost. No money changes hands – it is just paid for from her account, and her account is good in 35 countries.
I am sure without that particular service we would have been wandering around for ages trying to get a cab/ find a bus stop. That was ‘normal’ in my life before yesterday afternoon – now I will get an account so that I do not find myself in that situation again. How incredible that an American was better able to navigate her way out of trouble in London than me, someone who has (in the past) lived there for years.
Her daughter set up the App and account on her phone for her because her daughter uses Uber all the time.
However, it turns out that Uber has issues of regulation – including whether their drivers are fully insured and work to the required regulations. Hailo is a similar service to Uber but unlike Uber, all of the drivers on the Hailo platform are commercially licensed drivers and are within regulation of the cities they operate in. They’re also all fully insured. And they also have had problems competing with their rivals lower standards.
It is no wonder that black cabs and other taxi services are worried. Black cabs do in fact have their own App –even if it will not have the multi-country aspect . So, if one wanted to support Black Cabs one could do so. What the impact of Uber / Hailo / Lyft etc will be on Black Cabs, will have to be seen. It suited me earlier on today to hail a Black Cab rather than to use an App so their markets may well be different.
The point is change happens and people get used to doing things differently. What we cannot imagine now, becomes normal. And Uber, Hailo, Airbnb etc is showing us just how quickly this can happen.
However, I also want to be safe and so I want regulators to (1) keep up with change, and ensure that individuals (read me) know about these risks – which I did not – and (2) I want regulations to ensure that, de facto, working to lower customer standards does not lead to higher commercial benefits.
ICT is changing our everyday lives. Regulation is facing similar challenges because of this across all areas. It seems to me that the regulatory role is increasingly about being flexible, adaptable, co-ordinative and self-reflexive rather than the original insurer of economic efficiency.