London is filled with Americans. Nearly everywhere I turn I hear them as they shuttle between Harrods and Fortnum’s. I think they booked when the pound was down but frankly it’s nice to hear chatter that doesn’t involve a litany of complaints about the royal family when we are all clearly counting on King Charles to be the green-king he is poised to be. They do, however, ask about the future of Harry and Andrew—as if we know more than they can read in their papers. But the main thing I am noticing… they are taking up all the ride-hailing cars (Uber and Lyft). My wait time has increased exponentially, which has me grumbling on occasion.
‘Take my car!’ Daddy’s voice boomed from his study when he heard me complaining to my app, ‘You seem to think it’s a Zipcar anyway’, he muttered in half voice.
It’s not that often that I take his car! But of course he’s frustrated with me as I have a car, (and a house and a charging station) all set up in California but I just don’t feel like being there at the moment. Too scary, too depressing. So I called back, ‘Uber is an electric fleet, Daddy!’ Which elicited no response. Hmm.
I went outside to wait for my ride which wasn’t an electric one by the way. I looked up to see Daddy waving from his front-facing window. The car also wasn’t cool per my app settings either. Or quiet. In fact he had the windows open and some music playing. And he was on the phone. Then some small chat about where to take me (he wasn’t quite sure) and so he pulled over while three electric black cabs zoomed past.
I sorted the driver out, asked him to pull up the windows and sank back into my seat to research further. Seems one third of all London taxis are now electric, to only 13 percent of Uber’s fleet. More than double. Ugh! As I kept scrolling it became clear that asking to close the windows didn’t also clue the driver in to turning on the AC. Much in the same way that taking a job as a driver didn’t clue him in to the use of deodorant, so I quickly asked him to re-open the windows with me taking responsibility and apologising—so very British of me.
My destination was one of those labyrinthine sections of London which requires knowing where it is in order to reach it by car. I got dropped off where it clearly wasn’t. With ankle straps cutting in on both of my legs and a permanent scuff on my new Mach & Mach heels I wasn’t in the best of moods for anyone’s art showing.
‘Looks like you need a drink’ the gallery girl said, and led me over to a group already sipping on champagne. ‘You missed the artist’ I was told by a gentleman who looked as though he had raided Gianni Agnelli’s closet.
‘Oh…well my driver…’ I said.
‘Driver? Sack him’, the gentleman said.
‘Well, he’s not exactly my… I mean, I took an Uber’, I said.
‘Uber? WHY?’ he shot back.
‘Why?? Because I was hoping to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and…’
‘My dear… they are the mob! They pushed in, breaking every rule and once they got a market share—well THEN they said the people need us, and we have to stay’.
I hadn’t been prepared to defend Uber as 'not the mob'. Environmental arguments I could make… this was something else. I made my way to the other end of the gallery and when I saw people slipping out for dinner I did the same.
I walked a couple of blocks to where I thought an Uber could find me but two drivers cancelled so I gave up and walked to Cecconi’s. It was mobbed. Not unlike their restaurant in West Hollywood but of course there, they knew me. I put on my best California accent but it was lost on the Italian hostess. Finally I just explained that I didn’t have a reservation, that I was a regular in West Hollywood, where we don’t walk except when hiking and certainly not in braided silver sandals, and would she please let me order a plate of pasta at the bar. She did, and I rewarded her with a Hollywood-style tip.
I was tired when finally I returned home and I didn’t have time to read so many conflicting facts so I asked Daddy to help me make the case for carbon pricing. ‘The conflict is that you are trying to make an argument for the wrong side’, he said.
'My SIDE is the environment, as you very well know, and therefore I have to be in favour of carbon pricing’.
‘I see’, he said, ‘And there may be a time you can do that but at the moment… decarbonisation is a costly goal. And one nobody wants to pay for’.
‘I thought of that’, I said, ‘so instead of high visibility projects, we subsidise private sector, grant concessions, offer tax rebates… it’s a win-win'.
‘Uh, no Jennifer, it’s a lose-lose. You offer spreading the pain so that everyone pays. You can impose whatever you wish but the public still pays a price—whether in higher taxes, lower amenities, or a degraded environment, which is what you have now—congestion fees, higher fares, lesser service, and roads clogged up with ride-hails’.
‘It sounds bad—but then we just need more regulation.’
‘You HAD regulation—you had regulated black cabs, but then Uber bucked regulations, and now you have a choice of something that is not more affordable, or safer, or greener. And once they put the black cabs out of business do you imagine they will work cheaper out of the goodness of their hearts?’
‘So what now?’ I asked.
‘Well China has a plan. They are regulating their ride-hail services by taking over their apps… they erase out-of-favor companies from their maps, they lock dissidents from their cars, they control all routes… And voila! It’s a green choice!’
‘No matter… your plan is to tax people for not using mass transit, correct? So you’ll end up subsidising something that no one uses. Kind of like the bike lanes we have now.’
I was defeated. I knew the bike lanes were leading to more congestion and more pollution. And ride-hailing was proving to be worse for the environment than driving one’s own car. I opened my laptop to see if the cabbies union had an argument. Nada. Why was this? Seems their union argued against them… claiming ‘drivers matter’ (as in all drivers matter) which meant a larger pool of members, more power in numbers, and as for the mob comment… they really had muscled in. I was nowhere.
I emerged from my pensive funk when I heard my father putting ice in the drinks trolley. ‘G&T?’ he asked.
‘Yes, please, and question… what to do? I’ve got nothing’.
‘Actually you’ve got another Greenpeace—'
‘—whom I abandoned because they were doing more harm than good'.
The penny dropped. 'So the black cab is my cause?’
‘Well', he said, raising a glass, 'there’s always organised crime’.