Talk for Article "Big Read: Armed with ‘The Knowledge’ London’s black taxis square up to Uber"

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  1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

    “To both outsiders and residents, London is a 21st century city with a road network from the 12th century. Rigorous driver testing is crucial for a city so difficult to navigate. The roads are traffic clogged and flow systems are occasionally counter-intuitive. Ensuring drivers are trained is a matter of public safety.”

    This paragraph is certainly what the black cab industry argues when they want to justify their monopoly over the taxi market in London, however I believe these claims are at the least debatable. London is not unique in Europe in having an older road network, and it doesn’t logically follow that driver testing is “crucial” for taxi drivers. Suggesting that drivers trained in the Knowlege is a “matter of public safety” feels like hyperbole to me, and if the author was writing this to outline the black cab industry’s point of view, I think that should have been clearer, as it comes across as more a statement of fact. The whole argument of Uber supporters is that in the age of GPS, the Knowledge is in fact not needed any longer, and that by protecting the black cab monopoly, TFL is artificially propping up cab prices that are, in the eyes of many, too high.

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    This story is terribly slanted and biased. It has a subsection called “The Problem With Uber”. It’s not that I’m defending all of the shady things Uber does, but what about all of the problems with black cabs?

    London cabbies utterly failed to modernize for 100 years. There was no app, no rating system for drivers, no simple way to dispute a fair, and the awkwardness of tipping. They’re over-priced. Cabbies have been criticized as discriminatory in who they pick up and hostile to cyclists. The cabs themselves have inefficient, dirty diesel engines that pump out nitrous oxide and other deadly pollutants. The whole “Knowledge” thing is half anachronism, half myth – London cabbies get directions wrong all the time and Google Maps detects traffic jams in real time. From an economics perspective, the black cabs constitute a cartel, which is intrinsically inefficient and bad for consumers. And in the long term, none of this matters because they’re going to be replaced by self-driving tech and all be out of work.

    What is going on here? Wikitribune is supposed to be this experiment in fixing journalism, and one of the first stories is a hit piece on Uber.

    1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

      Hi Paul, we thought looking into the Knowledge would be a good way to do some reporting that people might find interesting – while Uber is in the news fairly regularly, we wanted to take a slightly different approach to the articles already out there. As you can see from the other comments your issues with this article are shared and I believe there is a piece in the works that discusses the debate with a more analytical approach.

  3. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

    I’m just about to create a new Story which is my attempt at an Explainer on this general issue, using “stakeholders” as the key theme.

    Having been around the site trying to work out how best to do this, it seems as though the only thing I can do is take the plunge and see what happens. It will all be embarrassing but also highly educational. Hopefully James and Jack will somehow find my crude first draft and either kill it or make it usable.

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      It’s been submitted. Hopefully Jack will semi-automatically be informed and James will be brought in if the idea isn’t deemed too hopeless. And hopefully someone will tell me how I could have got the involvement sooner rather than later

  4. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

    The story is written with the apparent assumption that the old way is the best way. I’d argue that a more useful article would be a comparison of what each of the stakeholders wants from the relationship (however temporary) and how well each approach serves each stakeholder.

    1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

      Your point about “stakeholders” is much better than my earlier attempt. It’s an important general point for WikiTribune. In all these difficult issues there are multiple stakeholders and if an article (intentionally or unintentionally) sets up a simple dichotomy between, say, Knowledge and Uber drivers we are missing out on the other stakeholders. I was startled to read (citation needed) that 35% of London traffic is now cabs. [Hmmm… London Congestion Trends report by Inrix shows a reduction in car/taxi/PHV use 2012-14 so even if there’s an increase in % cabs it’s against a smaller number. Shows how complex it is to sort out issues and why it’s good to check facts] May an argument for restricted cab numbers be a reduction in traffic, with the counterargument of inconvenience and a tube/bus service that cannot cope?

      How can this “stakeholder” view be built in to the DNA of WikiTribune? Sorry, Jack, this is heading off topic but James has put his finger on something that has bothered me about most of the WikiTribune articles so far. They tend to be very nice, but would benefit from a clearer identification of the complex stakeholder issues.

      1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

        You both raise interesting questions. I think Steven’s question about how we can incorporate this approach into WikiTribune suggests, to me, that the appropriate type of story for these questions would be an explainer? I am sure we would be interested in publishing an explainer on the debate.

        1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

          I agree. I’ve found in these first days of WT that the stories I find most satisfying are the explainers, pieces that give context and the interests of the (always) multiple stakeholders.

          1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

            OK, do we, the amateurs just say “OK, Jack, drop all your other stuff and write an explainer.”? Or do we attempt to create something ourselves, under your guidance?
            Last night all I did was my first scary attempt to comment on WT. Suddenly tonight I find my bluff being called.
            James, are we volunteering ourselves to try an explainer? If so, how the heck would we begin? Or do we leave it to the professionals?

            1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

              OK. Here are what I’d suggest as ingredients of an Explainer addressing this topic.
              – Long history of technological disruptions.
              – Typical stakeholder roles in these disruptions

              Personal Conveyance
              – Requirements
              – History
              – Stakeholders: Passenger; Conveyor; Road Network Operators; Environmental Consequences
              – Benefits & costs for each stakeholder
              – Economics for Stakeholders

              Uber/Lyft vs. Taxis
              – Where they fit in
              – Addressing each of the benefits/costs identified above

              Nice simple task – sounds like a book to me.

              1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

                I love your clarity of thought/analysis. I suppose I’d disagree with the need for a general “disruption” analysis because “everyone” knows that stuff. And, yes, as someone who writes technical books, writing a book on the topic would be easy. Writing a meaningful Explainer would be very hard. That’s the challenge.
                Presumably a New Project has to be started to construct this. I need to re-read the WT Help on all this. Last time I went through it, the thought that I might be involved in writing an Explainer was nowhere around so I glossed over it all.

  5. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

    “The company claims to combine cheap fares with an option to book drivers in advance, which Uber does not offer.”

    Within the Uber app you can “Schedule a Ride”, where you specify the desired picking time.

    1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

      Hi Anthony. Uber’s option doesn’t actually book a driver, so you may not get a ride if none are available when your scheduled ride comes up, as it says on their website I will submit a clarification in case the article is misleading. Thanks

  6. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

    It would be helpful to mention two potential issues with a “knowledge”-based system. The current version reads as though Knowledge-based drivers are necessarily good and noble, supporting their families, while competitors are somehow the bad guys. Something like the following:
    “With the additional upside of being able to use Bus/Taxi lanes, the black cab driver enjoys a strong incumbent’s advantage, which competitors might regard as being unfair. How much should an incumbent industry/technology be defended from competition via regulation? When regulation is favouring those who have a demonstrable advantage over those who are not regulated, regulation is good. When it is stopping genuine competition then regulation is less attractive. And while we all have stories of clueless non-Knowledge drivers relying on bad GPS routes, the best GPS systems can spot problems unknown to those who rely purely on the Knowledge. As soon as Knowledge drivers seek GPS assistance, the distinction between the two groups starts to diminish.”

    1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

      Thanks Steven, you make some interesting points. I tried to cover all of the advantages of the black cab’s competitors to make this fair but I will look at how to source and incorporate your point about the advantages that regulation offers black cabs. Jack

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