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Ubermarket Sweep

(Article written for Taxi magazine. The editor suggested I needed to lie down, though I think it’s quite jolly in places).

Ubermarket Sweep

You’ve probably noticed people riding around on Uber delivery bikes. Our favourite app-based technology company have opened a new front in the transport war and are taking on courier companies like Deliveroo. That’s all we need: more mirror-worrying scooters with huge boxes scraping down the cycle lane. A perfect complement to their cars holding you up by picking up passengers in the middle of the road and doing a three-point turn.
UberEats collect food from restaurants that don’t provide a delivery service and deliver it to your home or office. Cyclists and motorcyclists are drawn in with a £100 sign-on payment, and are apparently paid an equivalent of £10 per hour. Of course, Uber’s mini-cab drivers were similarly tempted in by golden hellos, but the gold turned to rust when their earnings plummeted. Ah well, it’s their choice.
Uber also experimented with a grocery service in Washington DC. They would deliver household essentials to your door at a competitive price and with no delivery charge. Amazon started a same-day “fresh produce and groceries” delivery service in California and Seattle, and have recently launched the service in England, supplying meat, fish, dairy products, and many other items. Sadly, when I tapped my Bedfordshire postcode in I learned that I’d have to go without my brace of pheasant today, as delivery is currently only available in certain postcodes in North and East London (Hipsters in other words. Yes, craft beer is also available).
This is in addition to the existing supermarket deliveries. We’re now living in a world where people expect everything to be delivered, and delivered promptly. I get to see many towns and cities on my travels, and I’ve watched our High Streets decline as the computer and smart phone has replaced the shopping experience. Big, established, names from my childhood, have gone: Woolworths and C&A closed years’ ago; to be recently been joined by BHS – a shop sold for £1, then valued at nothing.
People like Boris said people needed choice, and to object to Uber was to object to progress – never mind that private hire and taxi trades are distinct services, and ours is much more stringently regulated. You were anti-competition if you spoke up against an unfair playing field on which Uber played. When Uber, Amazon, and the rest, take over our High Streets and our few remaining greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers close; can we then say it’s because they were anti-progress and resistant to change?
Thankfully, the debate over cab drivers taking credit cards is now virtually redundant. Those drivers who resisted were labelled luddites Luddite if you were resistant to accepting cards. They were dinosaurs sleepwalking into their own extinction. I’d always countered that you’d only use cards to pay for certain items, and that you wouldn’t use one to pay for a pound of apples or a newspaper. I’m now thinking that maybe people do. People are certainly encouraged to pay for their coffee by card at certain places.
Presumably I’m a dinosaur if I want to conserve the physical shopping experience of walking down to the shops, to browse, touch and physically compare items – and to check the sell by dates on fresh produce.
The whole delivery thing has a sinister side. The independent businesses that I support would be hounded by the HMRC should they get their tax returns wrong, yet companies delivering stuff may well be brokering deals to discount their tax bills, or be paying their tax abroad. Are you against competition and progress if you don’t try to make deals to pay less tax?
Do the self-employed “partners” working on behalf of these delivery companies actually earn enough, or are they encouraged to claim tax credits? Are their scooters insured for business use?
Maybe Uber have gone as far as they can go with taxis in London, and that’s why they’ve started on couriers. The businesses that don’t take part in any of these delivery schemes will risk being eaten away. I would fully expect Uber and other companies to set up their own retail businesses, if they haven’t already – these things usually start off in the USA. They’ve waged war on taxi drivers, traditional private hire, couriers; and now butchers, fish mongers and greengrocers are at risk. They’re trying to take over the world! The Government, TfL, businesses, and those people who can’t be bothered to do their own shopping, are all letting it happen. They say it’s in the name of progress. Maybe it is. What do I know? I’m just a dinosaur.

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