ProDriver Congress London, June 6, 2017 - Panel Session 1: Disrupting the disrupters
Dominick Moxon-Tritsch, Public Policy Matters
Mike Bell, Driven Worldwide
Sean Sauter, Green Tomato Cars
Catherine Faiers, Addison Lee
Daniel Severin, Plan Insurance
The first session kicked off with a question posed by congress chair Mark Bursa: “What does disruption look like?” First response was from Dominick Moxon-Tritsch from Public Policy Matters, responding with a broad overview of the challenges facing private hire today.
The industry was going through a rapid transformation and suffering growing pains in Europe, Moxon-Tritsch said, partly because of the aggressive approach of Uber which had been honed in the much more deregulated conditions of the US. However, Moxon-Tritsch also wondered how sustainable the Uber approach was outside its home environment.
In the UK, the election - then still two days away - was also seen as a major source of uncertainty, with the government, depending on the size of its majority, expected to respond to the official policy review of the gig economy being carried out by Matthew Taylor.
Dominick Moxon-Tritsch: “So much change is still to come”
Moxon-Tritsch said this was likely to recommend that many people so far classified as self-employed, including in the private hire business, be reclassified as “dependent contractors”.
At the local level, there was also likely to be some sort of trimming-back on the competitive excesses associated with the 2015 Deregulation Act, which, as a matter of government policy, had seen a free-for-all, with many operators competing far outside their own local areas. Council licensing officers were unhappy about vehicles operating in their areas which “they cannot lay a glove on in a regulatory sense”, Moxin-Tritsch said.
Operators were also coming under pressure from new players, with the French Chauffeur Privé service, for example, likely to come to the UK before too long. They also needed to take the right approach to new technology, taking care to choose the right platform for the long-term.
Emerging themes such as “mobility as a service” also posed a challenge to the private hire business, although they presented opportunities as well.
Moxon-Tritsch also thought that for all the change we had seen already, we still didn’t know what disruption really looked like because there was so much more change still to come.
The discussion moved on to the work of the regulators and licensing authorities - and there was plenty to grumble about. An interactive poll of delegates showed that only 13.4% felt that they got a fair deal from Transport for London, with 54.1% saying that they didn’t.
Mike Bell, CEO of Driven Worldwide, said he didn't really see them supporting the industry or giving it much guidance - perhaps because the black cab trade had a stronger lobbying voice.
Mike Bell: “Black cabs have a stronger lobbying voice than private hire”
Sean Sauter of Greentomato Cars observed that the size of the regulatory body had increased on the basis of the fees that were being collected, leading to lots of cars being pulled over for inspection - Sauter questioned whether this was the most effective form of regulatory activity.
Addison Lee CEO Catherine Faiers thought the fee structure wasn’t sustainable and needed to change. TfL’s intentions were good but the implementation needed to be changed, she said. Under the current system there was a danger of perverse incentives relating to arbitrary thresholds concerning fleet size, although Addison Lee had no current intention to restructure itself in response.
Speaking from the floor, Mike Galvin from Addison Lee stuck up for TfL and Moxon-Tritsch conceded that while this would be cold comfort to operators in London, compared with other countries’ regulators, “we don’t know how lucky we are”, expressing the view that TfL “could and should do better, but it’s better than its continental peers” many of which were the subject of regulatory capture.
While TfL might sometimes arrive at irrational outcomes, it did try to regulate objectively. That said, there was an element of TfL being an “analogue regulator in a digital world”, with a need to keep up with the rapid pace of development in the industry better. TfL also had a flood of money coming in which it had to spend somehow - most recently in the form of employing inspectors to perform largely unnecessary checks on cars.
Bursa moved the discussion on to the subject of new entrants. Moxon-Tritsch reported that Lyft had already been approaching people in the UK with relevant experience and Chauffeur Privé was on the way here too. Didi from China was now offering its app in English and had already expressed an interest in expanding internationally.
Catherine Faiers: “Addison Lee is focusing on product differentiation”
While acknowledging the importance of competition, though, Faiers said Addison Lee was maintaining its focus on developing its own product through measures such as elevating and differentiating its brand in an increasingly segmented market and improving the “product”, including investment not just in the cars but also services such as wifi and measures such as driver training.
A further priority was trying to “own” the customer by building up loyalty. Sauter took the view that much centred on the role of drivers and whether operators were offering them enough support, and also said the car manufacturers could emerge as competitors, so Greentomato Cars was partnering with Renault Nissan and linking with Volvo too. Mike Bell agreed with Sauter on the subject of looking after drivers - “we have to look after them as well as we look after our clients.”
Sean Sauter: “Look after drivers the way you look after your clients”
On the specific subject of Uber, 27.1% of delegates thought that it had affected their business positively, 37.3% thought the impact had been negative, and 35.6% thought it had been neutral.
Speaking from the floor, Mark Parham from Go Green, was mainly positive about Uber’s impact, saying the new entrant had provided his company with “the inspiration to disrupt our local market.” Sauter agreed that Uber had been beneficial for the market in the sense that it had forced everyone to be better, but said that there also needed to be a level playing field for both existing players and the new entrants.
There was strong support for the idea of a national regulator, although Moxon Tritsch pointed out a few possible pitfalls as well - in the HGV sector, for example, which has national licensing, rates for agency drivers were high. And there was also the question of who would enforce national regulation with the police, for example, already being over-stretched.
Moxon-Tritsch also pointed to some of the anomalies emerging in the current system under the 2015 Deregulation Act. For example, Liverpool council issuing comparatively few licences with the much smaller Sefton next door issuing large numbers. On the other hand, this sort of regulatory arbitrage had opened up opportunities for more enterprising operators.
Daniel Severin: “National regulation could affect insurance premiums”
Daniel Severin from Plan Insurance felt national regulation would have the advantage for his business of making it easier to check that drivers were complying with the relevant regulations compared with the current position where the requirements varied so much between areas, although the calculation of premiums could be affected by drivers coming from outside into what were previously “good” areas from an insurance point of view.