It turns out that choking traffic from London to Berlin isn't the best way to get your message across to customers – even when striking is practically an EU-recognized sport.
Across Europe, over 30,000 taxi and limo drivers parked their cars and shut off their meters to rally against the infiltration of Uber in their cities. They're protesting under the same cries we've heard in the U.S.: the car-sharing service skirts regulations, drives down fares, and costs jobs. But before it even has a chance to decimate a decades (if not centuries) old industry, cabbies are doing it themselves.
During today's strikes, Uber got a massive boost of free publicity. The company says there was an 850 percent increase in people signing up for the service in the U.K. And it's extending across The Continent.
"I signed up today," Andy Williams, an American living near Milan, told the The New York Times. "I don't like the Italian business mentality. They are just about getting your money. There's no customer service."
That apparently outmoded idea of "customer service" is what's pushing people to Uber.
Aside from replacing the arduous, unreliable task of hailing a cab with the launch of an app and the press of a button, there's a McDonald's-like consistency to Uber. We've all been in hundreds of shitty cabs, but I've never once been in a shitty Uber – even the lower cost Uber X – and I've never had to give the driver directions, either.
But this isn't simply about cabbies and fares – it's about the idiotic, antiquated ways taxi drivers are licensed around the world.
Before a driver can get their license in London, they have to pay a fee, traverse through a series of archaic procedures, then memorize every street in the city in a process that can take up to seven years. And that's before they buy their own $60,000 cab.
Yes, there's an arduous background check involved too – something Uber should be investing far more resources into – but beyond that, the streamlining of licensing procedures would benefit both drivers and passengers. But naturally, that's not in the government's interest.
The licensing process in London dates back to the days of the "hackney carriages"... in the 1700s. Add in the fact that traditional taxi drivers pay considerably more in taxes than Uber drivers and it's obvious that the regulatory bodies don't have much incentive to make that process easier.
Instead, we get "solutions" like those being cooked up in France. A mediator appointed by the government has drafted a series of proposals to stem the inevitable tide, one of which is a government-developed app that would work just like Uber, but only show licensed taxis – because we all know that the one thing a bureaucracy is good at is developing and deploying consumer-facing technology.
Ideas like that are just more proof that taxi organizations and the regulatory agencies that govern them are using a bandaid to fix a shotgun wound. And we've seen this play out before.
When a new technology comes along and threatens an entrenched industry by putting consumer choice ahead of workers' rights, the former beats out the latter. And tonight, Uber is currently ranked as the second highest downloaded app through the Apple App Store in the U.K. – up 47 percent from yesterday.