Uber was not a nice company. It was not a perfect company. It was not a clean company. But my God, it was a useful one.
My first Uber opened up my own city to me like nothing had before. It gave me the freedom, both literal and financial, to travel it with ease. In a pre-Uber world, I was frequently stuck on a deserted street at 2am desperately hoping a black cab would magically turn up. Too scared to brave my night bus home (which I had done too many times and been harassed) and in a world before the night tube, a black cab was my only option unless I begged to crash on someone’s sofa.
Roughly an hour later, a black cab would usually roll by and ask my destination before opening the door. On hearing I was heading to a North-West London suburb, I would often be told that they wouldn’t get a return fare from there and they'd drive off, with no qualms that I was a young woman, alone, and I'd be left weeping by the road.
And if I did get one? A perilous hop out at a cash point half way, to take out the requisite eye-watering amount of money needed to get home. Unless you could score a crash pad from a friend, a black cab journey home was the reason you would have a ‘big night out’ – because it would cost you too damn much to do it on the regular.
As a Londoner, you grow up with an ingrained fidelity to black cabs; their unique silhouette ambling along the road is as London as you can get. My London-born mother said to me to always trust a black cabbie, but too many of my experiences with them had left me frustrated, jaded and poor.
When I took my first Uber I couldn’t believe how cheap it was to get home. I couldn’t believe how many options were suddenly available: I could stay out later, I could go out more and further afield, I could visit my friends in South London and my cousins in Harrow. I could afford more on nights out (surely one of the greatest booms to the London night scene has been Uber) and not have to take out scary amounts of money from dodgy cash points at 3am.
This is why the news of Uber’s potential eradication from London hits me hard, and I'm not the only one. A Change.org petition has already sprung up today to save Uber, with 71k supporters at the time of writing and thousands more signing every few minutes. I have no deep love for Uber as a company. I know that it does not have a moral high ground or a clean slate. I know I am lucky to have only had safe and positive experiences in the back of their cars. But what so many of us are pre-emptively mourning is a post-Uber London.
What have we learnt, not from its bad deeds, but from its unrivalled efficacy? It revolutionised and disrupted a service that was, and is, stagnant and anachronistic. How can we, as Londoners, stand to pay £40 on a journey that we know we once got for £14? What options are there for women in London without an inexhaustible disposable income- women who feel threatened by night buses and tubes and unlicensed mini cabs? No cab service has ever been completely safe for women – I know that – but for so many of the lucky majority, Uber felt safer than the alternatives.
If Uber has to go, for many of the valid reasons that TFL has stated, I will not protest. But what I will fight for is what we do now. We must find an alternative that will offer us a safe and cheap way home, particularly for our city’s women.
When Uber lost favour in the States, it was not yellow cabs but Uber-like services which rose. I hope that these emerging app alternatives – Lift, Juno, Taxify and MyTaxi – will learn from Uber's mistakes but also keep prices affordable in the capital. Otherwise, the death of Uber is one more nail in the coffin for Londoners, who so often feel we can’t afford to live in the place we call home.