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Society Needs Uber - Not Just for Rides.

When you get in a mini cab, don't just sit there looking at your phone. Chat to the driver! He or she has a story you need to hear as you make your way to a warm home in the suburbs, an expensive restaurant, the theatre or a concert... which your drivers and their families can only ever dream about. It's not only courtesy to respect them as humans rather than vehicle accessories, it's an opportunity to learn about other countries, other cultures and to take a glimpse into what it's like to be a 'have not'. It's about respect and empathy.

By banning Uber from London, its socialist mayor, Sadiq Khan, is ironically removing one of the most powerful opportunities for privileged classes to meet and get to know, albeit briefly, the very people he is dedicated to helping. When else do we have the opportunity to hear their stories? We're trapped in a metal box for up to an hour or so. Instead of rudely ignoring them, we should be finding out why they're mini cab drivers. Indeed I'm often told that my Pakistani, Syrian or Kurdish driver is a lawyer, an accountant, a writer or an engineer. Usually they have young families struggling to survive thousands of miles away without their father (usually). 

I'm not being patronising. I'm respectful and genuinely interested in meeting people who come from places and cultures that are different from me - unlike Black Cab drivers who support our football or rugby teams, have similar opinions about the royal family, Brexit and TV box sets, and sing the same national anthem. Their children are all being educated to a greater or lesser extent, they use the same NHS as us, and we sit next to them on Easyjet and Ryan Air. 

And by asking them questions, you're engaging with another human. You're breaking down barriers of mistrust and you're learning something.

Sadiq Khan is a member of the socialist Labour party. He's also the mayor of London. Over the years he's been battling against Uber in his city. The main issues seem to be the safety of passengers, pollution from increased traffic, and the erosion of the established, and much cherished, London black cab business. Last month, London, for the second time, cancelled Uber's license to operate in the capital. 

The number of licensed private hire drivers in London has almost doubled in less than a decade, from 59,000 in 2009-10 to 114,000 in 2017-18, while the number of black-cab drivers has fallen from 25,000 to just under 24,000. About 45,000 drivers work for Uber in the capital - that's nearly half of them. Khan said drivers’ livelihoods had also been affected by the rise in numbers. He added that “the huge increase in private hire drivers on London’s roads in recent years is causing increased congestion, polluting our air and leaving many drivers struggling to make enough money to support themselves and their families”.

This may all be true. But losing Uber from the UK's capital will remove a vital opportunity to promote socialist principles. It offers one of the few times that privileged British people get to talk to people struggling to survive and who are often immigrants refuges.

When you get into an Uber, you already know the driver's name (it's part of the app). "Good evening Ahmed. How are you?". You are locked in a metal box with them for several minutes. Talk to them! Ask them where they're from and what their story is. I've heard amazing tales from Kurds, Pakistanis, Iranians, Syrians as well as people from other parts of the UK who can't afford to take cabs themselves.

It's ironic that a socialist mayor is trying to prevent us from one of the most effective ways we have of personally exposing us to learning a little more about what life is like on the other side of the tracks. Uber is more than a business. It's a massive social education program that's literally comes to our door.


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