If you want to know what disruption looks like, take a look at photos of hundreds of black cabs blockading Whitehall in protest this month. I'm not talking about disruption to commuters; rather the disruption an app is causing an industry that desperately needed a shake-up. We're worried about stock market volatility and alleged billion-dollar tech IPOs unravelling into smoke, but here is the tangible, street-level impact of a tech platform - surely, that's a big deal?
The gauntlet has been thrown down by LTDA many times over, calling the brand Un-British, 'an American monster', and an assault on the age-old cab industry. There is plenty of sympathy to go around, of course: while those rotund black British cabs are iconic within themselves, their drivers are also an institution. They invest serious time and money in their profession and have been navigating our winding streets long before SatNav and GPS; in fact, research has shown black cab drivers to have larger hippocampuses. London's map is etched onto their grey matter once they've passed 'The Knowledge', one the most challenging tests in the world to qualify for a cabby's Green Badge.
The heart of the protest, however, lies in Uber's business model having slipped through the regulatory structure (or the lack thereof in the case of disruptive technology). Only the Hackney carriage can possess taximeters to calculate costs of distance travelled. But here is a conundrum for you: if an app is using GPS to calculate travel fares from point A to Point B, is Uber's technology a meter? While many of the arguments put forth against Uber are to be gravely considered, how do you combat, if at all, a competitive force that is going to raze the market structure for the betterment and convenience of travelers?
The 'American monster' is a direct consequence of a growing collaborative society, where we're willing to share our homes, cars, holiday abodes, and apparel with strangers. Sounds a little unsavoury when I phrase it that way, but a 68% of people across the globe are willing to engage in a sharing economy, according to a survey by Nielson. The regulators are gradually coming to terms with this; for example, there is fresh discussion to revise property law, enabling Londoners to rent out their property via holiday websites, such as Airbnb, without informing the local council.
While the 18-billion dollar household app versus the iconic black cab is making news, change is creeping through every industry as we speak: Amazon and eBay have revolutionized the commerce industry; Not On The High Street brings together buyers and sellers of bespoke, personalised gift items; Kickstarter is enabling donors to fund projects together; ShareDesk provides the means to let out our workspace; within B2B, blur Group has built an online platform to deliver quality services from thousands of providers, faster and more cost effectively.
Platforms are changing human behavior and they're impacting regulations. It's time for the existing, traditional businesses to signal their truce and adapt as well.