As black-cab drivers prepare to bring the streets of London to a standstill, Kroes said digital innovations were here to stay and that “going on strike, or by trying to ban these innovations out of existence” wasn’t an option.
“The job of the law is not to lie to you and tell you that everything will always be comfortable or that tomorrow will be the same as today,” she told protestors. “It won’t. Not only that, it will be worse for you and your children if we pretend we don’t have to change. If we don’t think together about how to benefit from these changes and these new technologies, we will all suffer.”
Kroes was receptive to the challenges facing the traditional taxi industry, however. She said it was right that people feel sympathetic towards drivers that ultimately want to plan ahead and provide for their families. “Many are also locked into an expensive licensing system, where the license effectively forms part of their pension,” she said. “So I don’t think it helps to be dismissive of real concerns that cab drivers have about new forms of competition.”
In short, Kroes argued that technology’s disruptive force was bound to change some jobs and make others redundant. While the rules surrounding services like Uber might need “adjustments,” she said, it was ultimately in Europe’s interests to design new, innovative services around consumers. Otherwise, the region will play second-fiddle to other markets where the latest digital innovations have been embraced, she argued.
“If we don’t use digital technology then millions of jobs will simply move elsewhere and Europeans will get angry that they are denied the conveniences that people in Asia and Australia and America and Africa take for granted,” she said. “Many of the people making those innovations will come from America and other places, but just as many will be home-grown innovators that the rest of the world is jealous of. All of it will contribute to our prosperity.”
Kroes also proposed that taxi drivers take advantage of apps and new technology to better serve customers. “We get nowhere in Europe by running away from hard truths,” she concluded. “It’s time to face facts: digital innovations like taxi apps are here to stay. We need to work with them not against them.”
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