Monthly Archives: September 2017

New Economics:  a local alternative to Uber

Transport for London has decided not to give Uber a new license, though its application (Uber requires drivers and users to have a smartphone) will still be operational in London while Uber appeals against the decision. Problems have arisen partly due to the company’s policy of not finding out whether the prospective driver has a criminal record.

An Uber executive from the scandal-prone company is said to have advocated hiring investigators to “dig up dirt” on journalists who criticize them. A commissioner in Virginia who opposed Uber was flooded with emails and calls after the company distributed his personal contact information to its users in the state.

Uber has been banned from or – due to legal restrictions – has voluntarily pulled out of Alaska, Oregon (except Portland), Vancouver, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, German, London, the Northern Territory in Australia, Japan, and Taiwan.

The New Economics Foundation has called for a mutually-owned, publicly-regulated alternative to Uber, providing better working conditions for drivers and higher safety standards for passengers.

Stefan Baskerville (NEF: Unions and Business) said: “Digital platforms are here to stay and technology cannot be reversed. The question now is how they should be controlled and by whom, as well as the standards they set and how they treat people. It is time to develop alternative models which put people back in control”.

As NEF points out, drivers in different parts of the UK are developing their own platforms

In 2015 Cab:app was co-founded by London taxi driver Peter Schive, who said: ‘Cab:app draws on the heritage and expertise of the black cab industry and translates it for the digital world.

Other early examples included the Bristol Taxi App – abbreviated to Braxi – which will only employ drivers licensed by Bristol City Council. Farouq Hussain, ‘one of the brains behind the app’, described it as being “just like Uber, only local”, with no surcharge and 25% pay cut. He added: “Our app takes the best of Uber and makes it local”.

The most recent: in June Anlaby-based 966 Taxis in Hull designed and launched its Uber-style app which they believe could transform the service. Alice Martin (NEF: Lead for Work) said: “TFL’s move will send ripples across the country where there has been a recent surge in private hire licenses given out to support Uber’s growth, particularly in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West” adding:

We’ve been working with drivers in different parts of the UK who are developing their own platforms. The time has come for the Mayor to back a better alternative to Uber and lead the way for other local authorities to do the same”.


Jeremy Heighway writes:

Years ago (but still after the dawn of apps) I thought about putting some effort into an app that would be more closely related to hitch-hiking than getting a taxi.

Basically, new trips by car should not be generated (aside for slight detours), and drivers would only be sharing the costs of trips they would have made anyway – and not making an actual profit.

I hope that a new platform manages to get the idea across that socially and ecologically sound mobility is not via job and journey creation using cars, but more efficient vehicle use.







Shrinking cities  

Margaret Okole writes: “At the last meeting of the New Economics Forum, we talked about population movements. Some were of the view that megacities grow inexorably larger, but London seems to be proving otherwise. This article in the Guardian suggests that it is actually shrinking slightly”.

The article referred readers to Yorkshire Building Society research, which shows that with a continuing affordability crisis in London, popular destinations, such as Lewes and Exeter, have become increasingly affordable. The findings, based on official earnings figures and Land Registry data for house prices in 356 local authority areas, come as the number of people leaving London is at a five-year high, with net outward migration of 93,300 people in the year to June 2016, 80% higher than five years earlier.

She ends: “I think Government policy has a big influence on whether people move and there’s nothing inevitable about it. It would be interesting to compare population movements within different European countries and the reasons for them”. 

A New Delhi contact, Devinder Sharma, points to the influence of an international institution – the World Bank – referring to a ‘60s/’70s directive which has so far eluded online detection. He deplores the apparent desire of his government to see people in rural areas migrate to towns and cities. However he referred to Michael Lipton, professor of political science, who draws on WB publications in focussing on this theme Lipton M. ‘Why poor people stay poor: urban bias in world development.'(Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1977). Many neoliberal publications propose this migration to free land for ‘development’ or ranch style farming – food for export.

A search revealed frequent use of the term ‘shrinking cities’. A Financial Times columnist focusses on cities in the ‘rust-belt’to whom Donald Trump appealed in his election campaign.

“The most common reason is deindustrialisation. Shrinking cities in developed economies are concentrated in a handful of areas across the globe, such as the American rust belt and the German industrial heartland. These places were some of the first to industrialise in the world, but have struggled in the past few decades to work out what comes next after manufacturing and industrial jobs have moved elsewhere”.

But a research article by Manuel Wolff and Thorsten Wiechmann, Urban growth and decline: Europe’s shrinking cities in a comparative perspective 1990–2010 (March 2017) reveals that 20% of European cities experienced shrinkage between 1990 and 2010, whereas 883 cities have faced recent shrinkage.

Three causes of urban decline – economic, social and demographic change

At COST CIRES Conference (University of Amsterdam) Stephen Platt’s presentation: Causes of Urban Shrinkage: an overview of European cities, was based on his earlier 2004 paper. He highlighted three principal widespread structural causes of urban decline – economic, social and demographic change.

  • Demographic – fertility rate, population aging, decreasing size of households
  • Economic – different cycles, de-industrialisation, globalisation, dispersion of commercial activities, macro-economic trends, industry/agricultural decline, energy prices and development of wages
  • Social/Cultural – Status, lifestyle, skills, education, employment, standards of living, migration, households, housing prices, public welfare, quality of life, and social changes
  • Environmental – Climate change, rural environment, landscape aesthetics / degradation • Policy/Politics – taxes, regulations and planning.
  • Suburbanisation, re-urbanisation, sprawl, counter-urbanisation – however these may not be actually causes of shrinkage but resulting from spatial processes of many of the causes listed above.

Secondary outcomes, for example the migration of young or highly skilled individuals, poorer service provision, regional specialisation or house price differentials, may exacerbate or contribute to further shrinkage.

WMNEG’s Andrew Lydon has frequently pointed out how many prosperous and heavily populated cities are on the coast and Platt adds that climate change may also come to play an increasingly role in migration, but that to date environmental factors are not a significant cause of shrinkage.




Ben Griffin comments on Universal Basic Income