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Uber story different than the Geldof view

Before Easter we hosted Bob Geldof at what turned out to be an fascinating luncheon. Everyone will have a different take on what Sir Bob had to say ... you can read my report on the event below. I really enjoyed how he tried to use historical context to warn about the changes that are taking place; and poverty's role in that.

In May we have the local boss of Uber, Simon Rossi, as our next guest. Mr Rossi will be speaking on digital disruption.

Interestingly, in his speech Sir Bob was critical of modern digital businesses which, he claimed, were monopolistic and determined to put many existing operators out of business in a way that will diminish choice for consumers. He was particularly critical of Google and Facebook but he also singled out share-economy sites such as airbnb and Uber for impacting on those who run existing businesses. While I sympathise (and few business are as impacted as we in the newspaper game) and can see his point when he highlighted, for instance, that airbnb, with 700 employees, had the same market capitalisation as Hilton, with 150,000 staff.

Just becomes an industry employs a lot of people doesn't justify its existence. To use Sir Bob's own turn-of-the-century analogy, I wonder what he would have said 100 years ago when the sudden growth in automobiles started to put blacksmiths and hay carters out of business?

In my view it is especially hard to make this criticism of Uber in WA. Here, Swan Taxis is in any case nearly a monopoly in a system that where too much of the value in the sector is already lost to third party investors who add nothing for the cost they impose on drivers. More importantly, Uber isn't employing less people. Each trip in an Uber car is, presumably, a trip that would have been taken in a taxi ... if you could find one. There may actually be more trips in the longer term if reduced cost and ease of use have the impact I'd expect. That is competition at work.

Anyway, look out for that event on May 19 and hear for yourself. 

Comments

Uber claim that many of their users would not have otherwise taken a taxi ride; and in San Francisco (the birthplace of Uber) the taxi industry has actually grown since Uber launched its services (albeit charging lower prices). As you say, what will drive this will be the consumer demand. A hundred or so years ago London was going to be swamped in horse manure but the car came along to solve that issue (and clogged it up with fumes instead?)

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