Why Europe's Anti-Uber Protests Backfired: Jim Epstein in The Daily Beast


The cabbies of Europe protest against Uber.

As Brian Doherty noted at Hit & Run yesterday, the cabbies of Europe clogged the streets on Wednesday to demand that Uber, the high-tech car service that's upending the taxi business worldwide, be regulated or booted from their varous cities. I have a piece at The Daily Beast today looking at why the protests backfired—new Uber signups in London jumped 850 percent after Wednesday's action—and Europe's anti-Uber forces may have already lost the war.

First of all, the cabbies didn't even bother pretending that their objections had to do with anything other than turf protection. At least the taxi drivers of San Francisco and Chicago make an effort to pretend that their cause is really about passenger safety. Isn't it charming when a cabbie blocks traffic, bangs on his horn, or just drives very slowly, to make the point that the state should preserve his monopoly privileges?

While the cabbies say it's unfair that Uber is exempt from taxi regulations, the company is making a mockery of the notion that the testing and permitting requirements ubiquitous in European and U.S. cities serve any purpose other than to protect existing drivers. As I noted in the piece:

London mandates that its cabbies pass a 149-year-old exam called "The Knowledge" that requires them to master the city's maze-like streets and know the precise location of museums, police stations, and theaters. As part of the test, they have to verbally recite detailed explanations of how best to travel from one location to another through the city's roughly 25,000 arteries. Passing "The Knowledge" takes years of study, and most drivers fail at their first few tries. The test causes the gray matter in applicants' brains to expand, according to one London researcher.

Perhaps the most compelling case for letting Uber thrive is that London's brainy cabbies should devote their oversize hippocampi to contributing to fields like computer science and medical research. In an age of ubiquitous GPS devices, many of which also incorporate real-time traffic data, circling the city in a car is a profound waste of such exceptional minds. London may as well also require that cabbies master the art of saddling a horse and mending a harness.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. Since it seems to be a popular topic around these parts, ya’ll should do a piece on the uber/lyft situation here in Houston. After over a year of the mayor/city council delaying the issue uber and lyft are no operating in open defiance of the city with the city fighting back ineffectually with citations. The mayor compared them to prostitutes and the taxi cartel is suing in federal court.

    All in all a very juicy story that could use the Reason journalist treatment.

  2. “We’re angry about the cheaper service that is more convenient and customer focused than we are! Don’t use them! Burn them out!”

  3. “London may as well also require that cabbies master the art of saddling a horse and mending a harness.”
    Please, don’t give them ideas.

    1. Hey, the task of mastering Cockney rhyming slang is enough.

  4. No worries downunder, where one state government comes to the rescue:


    1. Regulation stifles innovation? Nonsense!

  5. Has anyone ever used Uber or Lyft? I’m pondering using one of them to get to and from the airport during my upcoming visit to our nation’s crapital.

    1. I’ve used Uber a bunch of times. It’s a little more expensive than a taxi because we don’t have UberX here (Philly), but it’s really convenient and much more pleasant than a taxi.

  6. I don’t know much about the taxi business, but I assume local governments get a hefty cut from the taxis.
    Are they getting anything from Uber?

    1. The taxi’s pay a very hefty fee for their license/medallion that allows them to operate. Uber is subject to whatever local taxes may apply, but they aren’t paying the medallion fee, which can cost many thousands of dollars in some cities.

      1. The taxi’s pay a very hefty fee for their license/medallion that allows them to operate protection.


  7. But what of the buggy makers Mr Ford?

    Fuck these idiots. If I lived where I needed to use cabs I would pay extra for Uber. GOD, I hate cronyism!

    Oh, and fuck squirrelz.

    1. Oh, and fuck squirrelz.

      They are not reading the comments; you gotta contact them; Mike’s contact info is at the bottom of the page.

  8. Perhaps the most compelling case for letting Uber thrive is that London’s brainy cabbies should devote their oversize hippocampi to contributing to fields like computer science and medical research.

    Don’t be absurd. We can’t have peasants who would drive cabs entering medical school en masse. Look at their fingernails! Filth under them! Filth I say!

  9. I guess this is one way Europe is different than the U.S. In the U.S. it would be obvious, even to a cab driver, that if you wanted people on your side you WOULD NOT PROTEST BY TYING UP TRAFFIC.

      1. Meh. I’ve been told numerous times by Europeans that Boston is the most European city in America.

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