There’s pleasure to be had in the very act of argument, provided it’s about something meaningful and not “I can’t believe you didn’t reply to my text, it’s like you don’t even love me”. Sometimes you can lay out the most coherent arguments in a debate, trumping every opposing idea with the calm dexterity of Lincoln or Aristotle, knowing no sane person could resist your electrifying reasoning and that they will undoubtedly embrace your philosophy with immediate effect. You lean back contentedly, basking in triumph.
And your opponent slowly lifts their gaze from their smartphone and says: “Hmmmm? Oh, sorry. Just sorting myself out an Uber.”
I’m not imbecilic enough to think I can prevent a single person I know from adopting this logic as their own: traditional taxis are expensive; public transport is the preserve of lunatics and the damned; cheap taxis would be brilliant; Uber offer cheap taxis; there are considerable downsides to Uber; they’re cheap, so fuck it.
Why would anyone pay more for something than the minimum they’re allowed to? It’s a question that goes to the heart of who we are as ‘consumers’. Do you see the inherent value in something and believe you should pay what an item or service is worth? You’re probably at least vaguely socialist, even if they word conjures up images of bearded men printing pamphlets nobody will read. Or do you think the value of an item or service is not somehow built within it but decided by ‘the market’? You’re probably a scumbag, and you know it but don’t care.
Uber’s offering is straightforward: use a phone app to find a car registered with their service in your vicinity, and that car will take you where you want to go, for cheaper than a cab you’d hail on the street. You’ll need to know where you’re going, because chances are the Uber driver won’t given he only started doing this last week. How much the ride will cost you involves some mysterious combination of speed, distance, availability of cars in the area, whether it’s raining or Pancake Day and how successful the CEO was at the roulette table the previous night.
Your driver will have been through rigourous background checks, to make sure he hasn’t complained to any previous employers about working conditions or attempted to join a union. He could be a champion rapist of course, the criminal background checks are cursory at best, but what’s a cab ride without an edge to it? Boring, and who needs that at the end of a great night out with the girls?
And it’s cheap.
A black cab, however, is a relic. The driver will try and talk football to you all the way, he’ll go all round the houses to charge you more and you can’t even get one with your phone when you need one. Only of course there’s an app for that now too, most drivers have no interest in talking to you as you dribble and fart drunkenly on their back seat and, given they actually know the streets of the city thanks to the furiously hard tests they have to pass, they could actually be getting you where you need to be quicker than if you had to Google Map it for some dickhead whose geographic knowledge is inextricably linked to the satnav he can’t stop talking at him in Mandarin.
Black cab drivers are self-employed and pay taxes like any other small business, and not many of them make such fabulous wealth from their job that it’s clear they could easily live off lower fares. Uber also pay taxes, “in full, in all jurisdictions they are due” as they no doubt put it when accused of being dodgy bastards. And as any good capitalist knows, register yourself in Luxembourg or Equatorial Guinea or somewhere and watch as your UK tax bill legitimately shrinks to nought while George Osborne chuckles paternally at your mastery of international fiscal affairs.
But it’s cheap.
Think about the last time you did whatever job it is you do. Think about the effort you put into each task, from replying to emails to knocking up slidefuls of presentations, taking part in crucial meetings and generally making a good employee of yourself, and money for someone else.
Now, just for a moment, be honest with yourself. Do you think someone could have done all those things as well as you? Doesn’t matter who, just anyone given the training you’ve had. We all know we’re replaceable, that’s how they terrify us into behaving ourselves, so there must be people out there who could do your job as well as you. What if they offered to do it for less money than your company pays you? Would you say it was fair for your employer to replace you with the cheaper model?
What if they weren’t quite as good as you, but capable enough to get most of the job done to a satisfactory standard? Still fair enough? Because if at any point you’ve felt that little spinal shiver suggesting you’re one management shrug away from destitution, it might be worth thinking twice before firing up that app in an effort to save yourself £6 for a journey from Hammersmith to Harrow that might leave you with a sore arse.
Or maybe we just leave everything to ‘the market’. Sorry cabbies, it’s just the way the game works – if you can’t take the pressure of your job, ferrying ungrateful bastards around a city that seems to hate you, Iain Duncan Smith is peddling job advice at food banks now. You can use your comprehensive knowledge of the streets to find the busiest and most lucrative spot for your wife to attract businessmen to suck off to pay the kids’ school dinner fees. And though you’ve put your entire adult life into being a cab driver and dealing with all the shit people throw at you, ‘the market’ has decided punters deserve a simpler, more convenient service, so thanks for everything and the current is generally fiercest around Rotherhithe this time of year.
Sometimes a service is worth defending, not for tradition’s sake but because the alternative underlines how frighteningly disposable every one of us is. Black cabs will die, an honest occupation will go with it, Uber will put their prices up and the moment driverless cars become a reality they’ll be all over it like Cameron on swine. And when your boss calls you into his office and tells you you’re being replaced by Sergei, who can’t speak a bean of English but by Christ can he Powerpoint, spare us the whimpers that your skill and experience make you worth that extra couple of quid because you brought this on yourself.
Still, it’s cheap, right?