It’s the end of the road if black cabs don’t wise … up

The Times, 5 November 2014, Matthew Parris

Two smartphones. Two cabs. One destination. Last Wednesday my partner and I were dining with his brother and wife in London. After dinner we wanted to go east and they west. Each brother grabbed his phone and ordered an Uber car. On each screen, the nearest car was 1.2 miles away. Sibling rivalry kicked in. Fight! Fight!

Everyone crowded round the smartphone screens to watch the two car icons moving across the Google map, in an unwitting race for our address. There were air-punches and cries of “Yes!” from our challengers when our car took a wrong turning and had to reverse. But still we won. Yes!

Uber is the biggest thing in public transport for years, as important as HS2. Quite soon taxis cruising the streets opportunistically will be history; you won’t ring a minicab company for a car; and the car taking you to the airport will not return empty. Huge networks of drivers and virtual networks of passengers will use IT to get the nearest car to the customer, paid on account. The gains in efficiency and convenience are irresistible.

Black cabs must adapt or die, but will not adapt and will die. “Most”, said the historian Leopold von Ranke of human institutions, “see their ruin before their eyes; but they go on into it.” London cabbies are campaigning against Uber and Berlin has banned it, but resistance is doomed. If you know any young person studying to take the Knowledge and become a black-cab driver, please, please warn them.


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