Friday 13 June 2014

Weekly Wrap Up: The Uber Battle of Trafalgar

For a City famed for constantly being on the go, London was forcefully made to “go slow” this week as nearly 5,000 London cab drivers drew their vehicles to a halt in Trafalgar Square.

The protesters were speaking out against new smart phone app Uber, which allows Londoners to flag the nearest cab available using Geo-tagging, as well as estimate how much their fare will cost.

Whilst the former aspect of the app may be good for cabbies – the method reduces their dependency on commission charging taxi operators. The protesters were complaining that the fare estimation tool forces them to sell their services for less. Their basis for complaint was that, by law, fare calculating devices known as “taximeters” are only allowed to be calculated by black cabs, and that the Uber app could constitute a taximeter by pre-calculating a cab fare.

Unfortunately, the protest didn't have the desired effect of tarring the app’s reputation; Thursday’s papers were filled with stories of how the operators of Uber app had seen an 850% jump in registrations on the day of the protest due to the number of Londoners who discovered the app through the protest. Indeed one Tory minister, Matt Hancock, tweeted that he had never heard about the #Uber app, but that he thought it was “awesome”. The EU digital affairs commissioner Neelie Kros became the app’s champion by lauding the its innovation and the industry of disruptive technology.

This 850% spike was a rather predictable result. Within reason, all PR is good PR, and Uber simply couldn’t have paid for the paper (and even broadcast) space that the protest’s coverage gave them. One might even go so far as to suggest that this whole protest was orchestrated by Uber with the intention of raising their profile internationally and nationally.

Let us go one step further. Beyond the increase in registrations, what long-term impact could the cabbies’ strike have on the world of disruptive apps such as Uber?

Whilst the British population was busy marvelling at the effect of the protest and downloading the offending app, America (homeland of San Francisco based Uber) was allowing the spiders of cynicism to creep onto the internet waves. At 3pm on Thursday afternoon Ellen Huet of Forbes magazine reported that The California Public Utilities Commission has warned apps like Uber in a stern letter that they are no longer allowed to take riders to or from any Californian airport.

This story serves as a reminder that the eye of regulation is upon disruptive technologies such as these, and as such they could face barriers to their development in the future.

The protest may have been beneficial to Uber in the short-term, but the publicity that the protest achieved has now raised the question as to how far apps and disruptive technologies should be able to interfere with other services, and whether regulation should be stepping in to control this interference.

As we have seen from the markets in recent months, the growth of digital technologies such as Twitter and Uber is incredibly dependent on ever increasing user-ship; Twitter’s share price has been falling amid fears of slowing user growth. If regulation does prove to threaten the future take-up of apps such as Uber, it could be hugely damaging for the future reputation of these apps by “potentially thinning profits and making it hard for Uber to justify its valuation” (

This week’s protest raised an issue that went beyond the confines of London’s famous black cabs. Although this year’s 'Battle of Trafalgar' may have been won by the defender, in time it may prove to simply be the start of a greater war against technology.

Abchaps have been out and about on an international scale this week, attending the LSE Greater China Forum in Hong Kong, taking the opportunity to catch up with our clients and advisers who operate out there. Abchaps also caught up with London’s top advisers at the LSE Summer Adviser Drinks, wonderfully hosted across the road on Threadneedle Street. Ever with the media in mind, we got the low down from Richard Fletcher, Business Editor at The Times, at the CIPR lunch briefing this week too.

As always, two of the famous Abchurch Market Lunches saw an interesting array of guests sit down to discuss market trends and opportunities; thank you to our guests for your insightful contributions!

This week Michael Hafner has been appointed head of oil and gas, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at UBS. He joins from Deutsche Bank. David Bettesworth, previously of Deloitte, was appointed head of insurance and investment management advisory at PwC in London. Also, Vicki Harris has joined Aldermore from Octopus Investments as group strategy and marketing director.

“Black PR” – The process of destroying the target’s reputation and / or corporate identity.

Make the most of the sun this weekend. The More London Free Festival is in its 12th year and intends to celebrate! There is a 4-day street party which will see 5 different cultures show us the best of their food and fun on the South Bank- give it a try!

If you are a footie fan then you can catch the games at most London pubs, but we’ve heard about a few hidden gems. If you are central, head to Anthologist and if you want to enjoy the sun whilst keeping up to date with the Brazilian antics, then head to The Round House near Charring Cross Tube. Come on England!

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