The battle between Uber and TFL may be a must-watch event. But it’s not an inspiring story

Published on: Thu, 03 Jan 2019
By: Lorna, CEO, redwigwam

The real-life saga of Uber Vs TFL is playing out very much like a hit show on Netflix. And tomorrow’s deadline for the cancellation of Uber’s licence to operate in London could well be the season finale. But don’t hold out for a satisfying resolution.

While the GMB union has called the decision a “historic victory”, many believe that the drama of Uber Vs TFL is far from over. Based on Sadiq Khan’s latest request for both parties to sit down at the negotiating table, it is still not impossible that we might see an 11th-hour turnaround on the decision to revoke the ride-hailing service’s licence.

Some observers have suggested that TFL has been caught between a rock and hard place. In many ways Uber has been good business for London, helping to boost the economy and provide upwards of 40,000 drivers with a primary or secondary income. On the other hand, black cab drivers and established operators have repeatedly called for tougher regulations that would restrict Uber’s presence as both a minicab and taxi operator in the capital.

Relationships have undoubtedly soured between Uber and TFL as the tech company applied pressure through a combination of legal action and heavy-handed PR campaigns. Yet for drivers, the thought of losing Uber from the city’s streets is too much to bear. For many Londoners who depend on Uber’s technology to help them drive a secondary or even primary income, the revoking of this licence represents a redundancy that leaves them unable to put bread on the table.

That’s not to mention the millions of customers who love the convenience afforded by the ride-hailing service.

Uber on the rocks

Uber’s incredible rise is well documented. As the fastest growing company in the world, it reached 40 million monthly active riders by the end of 2016. Yet, the last 24 months has found them entrenched in legal and reputational problems.

Criticism and legal action over fair working standards, holiday pay and employee rights were top of the pile. This has been compounded by a backlash in a number of countries where Uber was found to be acting illegally. From Bulgaria to Australia, Italy to Canada, a number of bans and restrictions are now in place.

If that wasn’t enough, founder and CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to resign earlier this year after months of scandal and pressure from his investors. All of which has led to a less than rosy picture for the company.

Lessons to be learnt

The fact that Uber’s presence in London, and around the world for that matter, is so divisive is food for thought for other businesses moving in the tech space. So often we are now told that you have to be first in the door; that it’s a dog-eat-dog industry. But does there have to be such a high price to pay for success?

I believe that there is a very real danger of a disconnect between disruptive digital platforms, the service providers who make them possible and the end consumers who use them. Uber are by no means alone in generating controversy, of course. Only recently, Airbnb found itself footing a hefty €30,000 fine in Barcelona and facing further action in many parts of the world for contravention of housing laws and tax regulations.

Progress and disruption have become synonymous with the tech dream but it is crucial that innovation does not leave behind those people it is intended to serve. Pushing the boundaries certainly does not need to go hand in hand with breaking or even bending rules put in place to protect people.

Although new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi may have apologised for Uber’s failure to work more collaboratively with TFL in recent months, many believe that the tech giant will find it impossible to change its spots. As a global corporation valued at $70bn and with profit-focused investors, there’s very little chance that it will be able to take a gentler approach in the coming years. Typically that corporate ethos needs to have been nurtured from the early days of an organisation and needs to be embedded in the culture as it grows.

As I’ve alluded to in earlier LinkedIn posts, we talk a lot at redwigwam about working by our moral compass. This means that our quest for innovation, progress and growth are always weighed against a number of checks and balances to ensure that we not only see a financial return but that we are doing the right thing by the workers we place into temporary roles and the clients we serve through our online system.

From ensuring that all workers are paid at least the National Living Wage to taking care of all National Insurance contributions on behalf of our hirers, the elegance and intelligence in our platform is focused on service delivery rather than finding financial loopholes to exploit.

Are we the only company in the tech space behaving in this way? I’m confident there are many others who share our beliefs.

Do we always get the formula right? No, absolutely not.

Yet what I do believe is that the right way for us to do business is to build relationships and grow by building trust. The long-term success of redwigwam depends on both workers and hirers enjoying a positive experience with us. Convenience is one of the reasons people work with us; cost may be another, but to enjoy sustained success in the temporary work market we know that we need repeat business – something we’ll only get by treating people and organisations right from start to finish.

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