By Rebecca Burn-Callander, Enterprise Editor, and James Titcomb
The Virgin billionaire warns that any country attempting to halt the progress of the disruptive taxi app is hurting its own consumers
Sir Richard Branson has weighed into the Uber debate, claiming that any attempt to clamp down on the popular taxi-hailing app will hurt UK consumers.
The Virgin billionaire told London’s traditional taxi businesses to “accept” that there is a new model in the industry, and they must either “embrace it or change what they are doing”.
You cannot stop progress and you can’t turn the clock back
Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard, who has made a career out of launching start-ups to break up long-standing monopolies, said that any attempts to block Uber’s growth would be futile.
“You cannot stop progress and you can’t turn the clock back,” he said, speaking at the Virgin StartUp Foodpreneur event in London. “Once you’ve let the genie out of the box and people are benefiting from something, you can’t put it back in.”
Sir Richard warned that Transport for London’s (TfL) proposal to ban some of Uber’s key features – by demanding a minimum five-minute wait between ordering a minicab and its arrival, and banning operators from showing cars for hire within a smartphone app – would stymie innovation in the UK.
“Countries that try to ban Uber are holding themselves back,” he said. “It’s like banning Google because it’s competing with education. You must embrace it.”
The founder of the Virgin Group said that he had been caught out by emerging technologies in the past, and had learnt to adapt, rather than try to stand in the way of progress.
“I’ve been put out of business by new innovations: iTunes destroyed my record business,” he said. “So we moved into mobile phones, trains, health clubs and into space.”
He claimed that taxi lobbying groups who are fighting to curb Uber’s expansion in the capital should either “accept Uber and embrace it or change what they are doing”. He added: “The moment somebody creates something that’s better value for the consumer, you just have to accept it.”
In 2013, Hailo secured $30m (£19.2m) from investors including Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard has previously invested in Hailo, a smartphone app that helps link up passengers with empty cabs, saying that it had “revitalised London’s famous taxi scene”.
The moment somebody creates something that’s better value for the consumer, you just have to accept it
Sir Richard Branson
The new TfL proposals, which were revealed by The Telegraph on Wednesday, represent the latest crackdown on Uber by various regulators around the world.
“These bureaucratic new rules will not improve your ride,” Jo Bertram, Uber’s general manager for the UK, Ireland and Nordics, said. “They’re designed to address the concerns of black cab drivers, who feel under pressure from increased competition.”
London’s black cab industry has been severely hit by the rise of the service, which has resulted in 15,000 new Uber minicab drivers in the capital.
Ali Clabburn, founder and boss of the car-pooling service Liftshare, said that, if implemented, TfL’s rules “could make congestion in London a whole lot worse and make transport unaffordable for a lot of people”.
Uber has become the poster boy for the “sharing economy”, which refers to companies using internet technologies to connect distributed groups of people and make better use of goods, skills, services, capital and spaces. The company is now valued at an estimated $30bn.
Any move to halt its progress in the UK could be seen as hypocritical, as the Government has made its support for sharing economy businesses clear, vaunting the environmental and economic benefits of ride-sharing and room-rental services.
“There are things that the Government can do to improve the sharing economy,” Sir Richard said. “But it can’t fundamentally turn the clock backwards.”
source The Telegraph