Curious, don’t you think, that TfL’s consultation over private hire vehicles bodyblocks Uber's business model so perfectly.
Less curious, perhaps, is the subtext of its proposals, underpinned as they are by a blind panic over progress and (an understandable) sympathy with its victims, the noble black cab drivers
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has made himself unpopular with these increasingly militant figures by putting their struggle in the context of history and, more pertinently, branding them "Luddites".
But his basic point about the heartlessness and rapacity of progress is immutable.
Yes, people could still breath oxygen the Stockton-Darlington train ran at 30mph; no, cow’s milk didn’t turn stale; no, a fax machine didn’t swallow the image it was sending; no, mircowaves don't cook your unborn baby.
We laugh now. In 10 years’ time, we’ll be laughing at these stick-in-the-mud ideas. Mr Johnson says he is seeking balance but TfL's all-out assault on Uber (admittedly, not an operation that can be taken easily to the heart) appears laser-guided.
It's a checklist of move and counter-move.
What is it that Uber has most of all – flexibility. So let’s have five-minute waiting times and a block on people know if other cars for hire are in their area.
Uber is a digital, on-the-hoof operation so let’s have a requirement for fixed lines, fixed prices and prior booking. Uber’s looking at ride-sharing (UberPool) so let’s slap that down straight away. And Uber drivers work part-time for them so let’s have a one-company-only rule – not a restraint of trade in any way.
And what does "Uber" mean anyway. Let's have proper English words on our roads like Aaaaaaaaaa1stCars. And no anagrams of Reub. And those Californians drive on the right so let's only have left-sided countries of origin for our private hire vehicles.
Such measures are reminiscent of the Locomotive Acts of the 1860s and 70s which saw a hapless oik walking ahead of a car with a red flag, attempting to turn the point of a car (speed) into a weapon against itself.
And, in the latest twist, TfL is going to the High Court to ascertain whether a smartphone (which calculates distance and price through the Uber app) can be considered a taximeter. Private hire aren’t allowed to use taximeters. It’s illegal.
Let’s reflect on how that law came about.
During 1907 that the number of motor cabs in service in London increased dramatically by over 700%. The reason for the rise was the introduction of 500 Renault cabs. This motorised vehicle was fitted with a taximeter, at that time not approved for use in Britain on either horse or motor cabs.
Taximeters were not new. As long ago as 1847 a device was trialled on a Hackney Carriage and in 1891 a more efficient device was in use in Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Stockholm. But it was March 1907 before the device was first used in London.
According to Taxi! The Story Of The London Cab by Malcolm Bobbitt: “The fare-paying passsenger appreciated have a clear indication of the amount due and were no longer at the mercy of capitalising cabbies. On July 1, 1907, taximeters in motor cabs were made compulsory.”
They weren’t approved. But the technology worked and people loved it. So then they became compulsory. History will repeat itself somehow.