Beat the System: London’s Uber ban has nothing to do with safety

London’s black-cab drivers block Whitehall in April during a protest against Uber.

If London Mayor Sadiq Khan were really worried about the safety of passengers, he wouldn’t just shut down Uber. He’d shut down the public trains and subways.

Khan and his Transport for London boondoogle, which have just moved to ban Uber from the entire city, have noted that there were six reported sexual assaults on Uber rides last year.

Six is six too many, of course.

But on London’s subways and trains there were … 1,449.

That’s according to data that the London Evening Standard newspaper was able to extract from the British Transport Police: “Revealed: More than 16 sexual and violent offences on London’s railways every day.”

“Violent and sexual offences on London’s rail network rose by almost 1,000 last year with more than 16 incidents per day,” the Standard reported.

That’s not to count all those on buses or in taxis: “London bus sexual assaults: Man arrested.”

“Officers investigating a series of sexual assaults on buses in south London arrest a 32-year-old man,” BBC News reported.

Also read: London’s Uber decision unjustified, says Wilbur Ross

Naturally, many more people took the Underground than took Uber, so it’s not apples and apples. But nonetheless it’s hard to see how the mayor is obsessed with six alleged assaults on Uber but not with nearly 1,500 on the Underground.

That’s because this bush move by the London mayor has very little to do with defending the safety of passengers, and a lot to do with defending the jobs of his politically organized supporters in the transport industry.

There are 28,000 unionized employees of Transport for London itself, and 22,000 politically powerful drivers of black London taxis. They don’t want competition, for the same reason the rest of us don’t. We’d love to be able to put our feet up. Alas and alack, most of us have to compete for business in our lives. Unless, of course, we can use union power and muscle to get political patrons to protect us.

Uber is not a sympathetic company, and it was vulnerable to this move because of a disastrous string of bad publicity all year. Khan moved just three weeks after Uber appointed a new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, who is tasked with turning around the organization.

But this decision is farcically dishonest, and a terrible setback for London.

The city’s black cabs are not quite the charming institution they may seem from afar. I lived in London for many years, and until Uber you could walk for half an hour looking for a cab, and then have the driver turn you down because he wanted to go in another direction. I actually signed up for Uber in the back of a black London cab after yet another one of those annoying experiences.

Cabs are also expensive — charging up to $13, for example, to go one mile. Yes, really. Uber’s a fraction of that.

What will happen if the Uber ban is upheld is that some Uber drivers will lose their work, and others will get jobs driving phone-based London cabs known as “mini cabs.” So they’ll be back on the streets as before — including, naturally, any predators. But instead of getting a ride in two minutes from your smartphone, you’ll have to call a number in the suburbs and wait half an hour for the guy to show up.

Meanwhile, more women will end up either walking home, or getting rides from the completely unlicensed drivers who cruise around central London on Friday and Saturday nights hustling for business. Good times.

When Britain voted for Brexit last year, I warned about the risks that the country would slide back to the bad, old, lazy, sleepy, anti-competitive “Fawlty Towers” days of the 1970s. This is exactly the kind of stuff I meant. Appalling.

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