Last time I checked there were more than 780,000
signatures on the #saveyouruber petition. Clearly people care about the story –
but what is it they actually care about?
Uber’s success is hard to argue, the BBC states that ‘Some 3.5 million passengers and 40,000 drivers use the Uber app in London’. But research we conducted in June suggests signatories might be more concerned about the potential inconvenience caused by not being able to get around London so cheaply and conveniently rather than for the loss of the Uber brand from the capital’s streets. Do they love the company or do they love the service it provides? Would so many have signed if there was a large, credible alternative? More importantly would Uber have been forced to review how it operates sooner rather than wait for TfL to step in if there was a competitor keeping them on their toes?
More than a third (36 per cent) of the Britons we spoke to were unfavourable towards Uber (0-3 on a 0-10 scale) and that increased to 38 per cent among those living in London (with only 13 per cent favourable), and that was their highest score. 45 per cent of Londoners felt Uber not to be trustworthy, 48 per cent said it wasn’t a responsible company and 44 per cent were not proud to associate with it.
Of course there is no doubt a large number of Uber supporters too, and enough to register nearly 800,000 signatures. But at the very least it suggests the detractors outweigh the fans, even if some of them also begrudgingly use the service.
This gap between love of the service and love of the company is where the risk sits. The risk of competitors stepping in, regulation change to work against Uber or in favour of London’s iconic black cabs or the risk that people will forever be sceptical of a company that has had such a rocky year.
It appears Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new CEO ‘gets it’. In his internal email to staff on the subject he acknowledges that, ‘Irrespective of whether we did everything that is being said about us in London today (to be clear, I don’t think we did), it really matters what people think of us,’ and that ‘there is a high cost to a bad reputation.’
The challenge for Khosrowshahi is to keep Uber on London’s streets by convincing TfL that the company he now leads has genuinely changed. The mood music suggests he will, and that Sadiq Khan was using his trump card to bring about precisely such a change. But perhaps the more interesting sub-plots to the main story will be measuring the cost to the business, watching how the competition capitalise, and maybe most interestingly of all, how other cities respond?