How can Uber save its place in London’s taxi market?

Uber in action. Image:

Dara Khosrowshahi will have to do more than post a humble tweet if he is to rescue Uber in London. The CEO of the ride-sharing company will need new reserves of humility, allied with positive action, if his firm is to be given a third chance to make it work in the UK capital.

Uber was first warned early in the year when it was given a short-term license extension rather than the full five years. The idea was that it would put its house in order. Transport for London (TfL), the body which issues taxi licences, was unhappy with the level of cooperation with authorities over driver checks and alleged sex attacks on passengers. So called “greyball” software designed to mislead authorities by preventing them from making checks on drivers also raised concerns.

Uber appears to be struggling to understand that higher standards of behaviour are expected from large businesses compared to start-ups. Once upon a time, Uber may have passed below the radar. But with 40,000 drivers and 3.5m customers, they are a significant business, and attract significant attention.

Control issues

It does appear that the door has been left open for Uber if it can address its behaviour, and that of its drivers. The company is lodging an appeal, which will give it a further 21 days in which it can continue to operate. The question is whether Uber is capable of bringing control and discipline to the way it operates. Does it have the structure, processes and procedures necessary to fully comply with TfL’s regulations?

The impression is left that Uber has simply not matured to the degree needed for such a large business. The extent of allegations and bad publicity is burying the business in London, its largest European market. Uber’s reported obstruction of regulation is catching up with it. Its customers have tried to make their voice heard, but online petitions are unlikely to cut much ice with TfL, whose first responsibility is for passenger safety. Uber needs to address its own behaviour first. And this is no time for an adversarial approach.

A gentle, placatory strategy is much more likely to be successful than taking on TfL. It will mean Uber going against type. The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association suspects Uber will seek to take on TfL through the courts, a move which would win no friends at TfL. Wars with regulators rarely end well.

Disaster area

It might seem that all is lost already if you believe some commentators. They suggest that London mayor Sadiq Khan has pushed this decision through to appease black cab drivers for political motives.

In truth, the possible loss of votes from 3.5m Uber customers and 40,000 drivers in the next mayoral election makes that rationale look flawed when you compare those numbers to the 20,000 London black cab drivers who are celebrating the decision. This action is probably Khan’s least favoured path and final resort. And it’s fair to point out that theoretically, he has no part to play in the decision, even if he clearly supports it.

From Uber’s point of view, it is no over-reaction to call this a disaster. Significant investor-funded incentives will have been poured into the London market to attract drivers and customers in developing the business. Uber has around one third of the London taxicab market but many of its self-employed drivers work for other taxicab businesses too. Some competitors also have their own apps.

This means switching costs are low for drivers and customers who switch to competitors such as Addison Lee and Gett. In the space of a few days most customers will have happily used or considered other taxicab firms. From 21 October, when the appeals process extension is due to end, Uber’s business will seep away and it will be difficult to get back. That makes Khosrowshahi’s task all the more problematic: how to develop an amicable and practical response while the clock is ticking, and when the company’s instincts may be to lash out.

Domino effect

To make matters worse, Uber operates in 40 towns and UK cities which may have experienced similar behaviour and who may now feel empowered to follow London’s example. Intense scrutiny will fall on the company from civic authorities, politicians, the media and the public. This is the cost of scale. And scale achieved too quickly makes the scrutiny hard to manage.

So, what can Khosrowshahi do? Litigation – should Uber lose the appeal which has 21 days to be heard – would be a high-risk option. If they lost the case then the London market might never be open to them again. It would also be a lengthy process and by the end of it there might be no market left for them at all.

The CEO needs to use the personal touch. He should visit Khan, cap in hand, to plead for a further three months to demonstrate that behaviour will change. He should then make sure it does. This would include transparency and full cooperation with TfL and the police over alleged driver attacks, demonstrating that all drivers have been subjected to required checks, and that “greyball” software is not being used.

The ConversationThis goes against Uber’s usual secretive and antagonistic culture. The tone of Uber’s approach in its young life has owed much to the spiky urgency of founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick’s personality. The tough task will be to convince the London mayor, and authorities elsewhere, that the culture has changed while Kalanick and his supporters remain on the board peering over Khosrowshahi’s shoulder while he is trying to negotiate a fix. How London plays out will be a litmus test for Khosrowshahi’s proclaimed wish to step away from Uber’s toxic reputation.

John Colley is associate dean at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.

Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.