Monthly Archives: September 2015

Cabbies sleep walk into a bear trap

I’m calling this one. It’s like seeing a car crash about to happen and not be able to do anything to prevent it. But I will say this, if I was a cabbie I’d have to be a member of UCG. They seem to be the only ones with campaigning horse sense and rightfully remain distrustful of TfL.

So what’s going on? The Telegraph leaked TfL draft proposals for private hire regulations that were to be announced in the coming days in advance of yet another consultation on the matter. And it just happened to be leaked to the Torygraph. One day before a UCG taxi demo. But I guess UCG is the only taxi representative body that gets the joke.

UCG campaign

Meanhwhile the LTDA is running around like a headless chicken getting ready to mount up for a PR war it can never win.

LTDA

The truth is Cabbies have walked into a bear trap set for them. They have not asked for a cap on private hire licenses. Instead they have asked for regulatory shackles to be placed on Uber. If I was an Uber executive I’d be popping the champagne cork now because it now allows Uber to make a cogent argument about how technology innovation and consumer choice is being held back artificially by ‘luddite’ regulators. The waters are well and truly muddied now.

And expect no sympathy from the Mayor or incumbent of any colour next year because Uber has shown itself well adept at mobilizing its customer base against regulations it feels threatens its user base. Have a look at what happened and is happening in Brussels, Taiwan, New York and elsewhere. Here in London, Boris at every turn has signaled consumer primacy so guess what happens next?

At the heart of this folly is a proposed requirement to build in a 5 minute latency into Uber reservations. I’ve expanded at length on this before. Just wait until Uber explains that the 5 minute lost time is due to a need to preserve cabbie regulatory advantage. It doesn’t matter what the merits of the case are or the historical legacy for ply for hire, customers will be furious. They forever more will be unforgiving and unsympathetic to the cabbie trade. Just wait until all the economists start adding up the productivity loss of 5 minutes per ride to the London economy? It’s truly a disastrous own goal.

But from my perspective, most of all it’s a disaster for us private hire drivers not even making minimum wage now faced with the prospect of a 10 minute per hour productivity loss depending on how this is implemented. It’s sad that the cabbie trade and some of it’s more toady followers can’t see the injustice and suffering brought to so many private hire drivers from this. What is more, the measure will be ineffective even if customers accept it. The five minutes will be sucked up and cabbies will lose more share not gain it.

In my post earlier about the IPCC complaint I made the case that TfL was creating more problems than it was solving with Operation Neon. Well, guess what? We will only have more of the same.  Because, nobody – and I mean nobody – is openly lobbying for a cap on the number of private hire licenses issued in the city. That I’m afraid is the only answer to cabbies lost income and private hire impoverishment.

I hope I’m wrong about all this. I really do.

A complaint to IPCC regarding Operation Neon

Maybe my thinking is sometimes too rigid and polarized but try as I might I can’t get my head around Operation Neon’s terms of reference. It’s clearly a political side step move to appease the cabbie trade while avoiding the real policy issues. This is not fair to anyone, but more than that it is an abuse of process & power that none of us should ever tolerate.

But maybe as a black cabbie you feel that the private hire trade needs to be reined in, that a crack down is over due. Maybe, but nothing justifies Tfl’s abuse of process. I don’t want to be over dramatic but lets remember the words of Martin Niemoeller and consider the need for vigilance when organs of the state are used unjustly as a blunt instrument. It’s a Pandora’s Box than should never be opened.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I have just one voice but I used it today to file a complaint with the IPCC against the Metropolitan Police and The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. The establishment is powerful so I’m not optimistic of a favourable outcome but it’s the right thing to do. I hope other individuals and the GMB will do so also. The basis for the complaint is as follows:

  1. Operation Neon, a anti touting compliance operation against the private hire trade, is of indefinite duration and will continue as long as TfL, LTDA, Unite and LCDC agree that it is necessary. In other words, forever. There is no private hire representation either for a decision to initiate or review. It is simply inappropriate for a competing segment of the licensed trade to be allowed to direct enforcement against another.
  2. Operation Neon is not evidenced or risk based enforcement. Since May Operation Neon has detected only 47 actual touting violations and from that number it is not clear if or how many private hire licensees were involved. There has been little or no public education on how customers can easily identify if their driver and vehicle is licensed. In contrast Operation Neon has recorded non touting actions such as directing private hire drivers to move on 3,514 times, parking on taxi ranks 433 times, wrote up drivers for not wearing their badge 2,253 times. The latter figures show that inspections are being made en masse. The former figure shows the prevalence of actual touting in an anti touting detection programme is low.
  3. Based on the above recorded actions we can see that TfL, who administers Operation Neon, is largely responsible for creating the problems recorded above by over supplying the market with licenses. There are now 87,000 + private hire licensees in London and incomes are depressing rapidly as a result. On weekends in busy areas of London there is much congestion as all of these cars and drivers try to operate in a relatively confined area. There simply is not enough room to operate. Over the long term we can easily predict there will be a correlation between declining incomes and compliance problems as drivers fall behind on payments and their ability to support their families. There is a solution entirely in the gift of TfL, that is to cap the number of licenses issued. An anti touting initiative, no matter how hard hitting, is not going to solve the problems TfL is currently creating.
  4. Operation Neon is ill conceived as a political tactic rather than a real operational improvement programme. Given this misalignment on objectives, strategic intent and execution it can never be successful. In the press release announcing the initiative Garrett Emmerson gave the game away, by insisting that the introduction of the Operation Neon should head off the need for further protest disruptions from UCG:

    There is absolutely no justification for this protest because we are already doing the very things they are calling for.

  5. Operation Neon unfairly attacks the private hire trade and TfL’s bellicose communications just serve to erode trust in the trade, endanger driver safety and damage the commercial viability of many small businesses. To continue to use the term ‘touting’ where virtually none is detected is uncalled for. Michael Liebrich’s comments where he identified private hire drivers as ‘potential sex attackers’ is simply reprehensible. Liebrich has made it known he intends to run for Mayor at some point and he should not be allowed to build his law and order political credentials making false and unfounded comments about a trade that numbers more than 87,000 innocent, hard working people while riding shotgun with Operation Neon. In fact, he must resign.

Bad policy, bad enforcement and bad regulation is wrapped up in Operation Neon. We all need to understand that the root of the problem is the Mayor and TfL’s inability to formulate sensible policy and enforcement that is fair and sustainable for all of the trade, both private hire and taxi. The political instinct seems to be not to make a decision of any kind and try to reinforce a perception of a preserved status quo through aggressive enforcement campaigns. But not making a decision is making a decision.

The industry is being reshaped by the entry of Uber, the immediacy of e-hailing apps, the failure of the black cab trade to find new recruits for KOL and the unwillingness of TfL to control the number of private hire licenses issued. I understand there is a need for primary legislation on the last point but what are we waiting for? For now, Operation Neon, ill conceived as it is must be suspended in the interests of civil liberties. Any future enforcement of this kind must include the voice of the private hire trade. If you feel minded too, please do file an IPCC complaint yourself at this link. It’s an easy and quick form to fill.

In the meantime, Tfl – just do your job.

Uber’s war in the mind

I worked for a tech company once where much of the senior management team were none native English speakers. Naturally in tech, attracting and retaining skilled staff is of strategic importance and these executives had a worrying habit of speaking about the ‘war on talent’ rather than the ‘war for talent’. Some might call that a freudian slip, but  at Uber there has been no such ambiguity. As a scrappy start up it took a fairly simplistic, macho approach that drivers were an unnecessary and costly link in the chain that could be eventually eliminated for a more frictionless customer experience. In the meantime while Uber shoulders the driver burden, the company is determined to push down driver incomes to the level of intolerance. When asked why the company might want to upset the apple cart when customers, investors and driver are happy –  because we can – was the reply from Uber’s CFO.

But there are signs that Uber is shifting from less red meat to more vegan offerings. In Travis Kalanick’s hour long rambling at Dreamforce last week, he sought to project a softer image. Charisma not his strong point, he fumbled the opportunity according to the San Francisco Chronicle. There were a few cringe worthy moments like when Travis said:

we give our customers a high five but we give our drivers a hug

Lucky for us the London team didn’t get this memo yet though I will say an hour in the Uber office with the Driver Ops team is a bit like being seduced by Scientologists  – it induces a weird mixture of fear and inspiration.  

Other clangers dropped by Kalanick at Dreamforce included his expressed determination for Uber to ‘give back’ to the communities it serves. He talked about:

celebrating the city and the officials that have helped Uber

Ouch! That sounds like political patronage at best and illegal bribery at worst. Of course the flip side of this is the hair dryer treatment Uber is willing to give any public official that doesn’t do their bidding. Just ask Mayor DeBlasio in New York or Rudi Vervoort in Brussels. In both cases Uber has chosen to up end our legal and democratic processes through the unleashing of consumer power with customers in fear of losing cheap Uber rides only made possible in the first place by driver exploitation. This type of political activism is most offensive and is completely one sided. Why not ask citizens about more than cheap fares? Let’s ask them if they care about safety, driver’s rights, public transport or congestion.This type of corporate manipulation of consumer power for corporate gain is truly insidious and frankly, cultish.  

Screenshot_2015-09-27-03-21-22But rather than confronting the issues raised by drivers to Uber in courts around the world, Kalanick used the Dreamforce stage to portray himself as a saviour. Speaking about the evils of the taxi industry before Uber he said:

Taxi drivers are good people, they are just treated badly……….the reason we got started is because the taxi industry was broken, it wasn’t working for either the driver or rider. ….. 2 drivers shared the taxi rental cost of $90,000 a year and for that you get the privilege to be left impoverished.

Yet drivers are left more impoverished than ever on the Uber platform and guess where that $90,000 margin goes when taxi drivers move over?

Still, I was heartened to hear Kalanick say:

15 minutes is too long for you to go pick someone up because that’s down time for you where you’re not making money.

The London Uber team didn’t get that memo either.

IMG_20150920_154003

And yet no matter how hard Uber corporate tries to play nice the mask inevitably slips and the nasty leaks out. Uber’s corporate culture somehow suffers from a delusional war in the mind. It sees conflict between its stakeholders where none really exists. In the exchange below, Uber’s chief lobbyist in the wake of a government decision to reject employment rights for drivers seems to think that the government is neglecting the interests of consumers. MacGann needs to quickly learn that far from their being a polarisation of the two, in reality, when drivers are happy, riders will be too. No hugs required just fair play. Join us.  belgian employees

Dear Save the Children, save our children from an Uber ride to poverty

An open letter to Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children. I’ll post a reply if I ever get one.

Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive, Save the Children

Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive, Save the Children

Dear Justin

Firstly, as an Uber driver may I commend you and, indeed, Uber for your recent initiative to support Syrian refugees. I was not asked to participate as a driver myself but I did receive an invite to donate to Save the Children from Uber. Unfortunately, I am unable to do so right now for reasons that will become apparent. However, I do question the timing and appropriateness of this particular partnership given Uber’s role in driving so many London families into poverty.

Our government has not exactly set the pace in Europe for a response to this humanitarian crisis so it’s important that non state actors step into the breach. While some question why we in Britain should help the Syrians when so many here are suffering economically I have no truck with that line of thinking. The refugees have been driven from their homes by war and atrocity and we must hold out a hand of welcome.

I’m aware that on the day of the Uber / Save the Children campaign you were in parliament appearing before the House of Commons Public Accounts committee with peers apologising for more aggressive fundraising practices of your sector now consigned to the past. It is curious then that you and your board of trustees (I understand your board of trustees sign off on all corporate partnerships) would approve a partnership with Uber at this particular time. While the behaviour of over aggressive chuggers & cold callers needs curbing, by your own definition, Uber is actively contributing to an acceleration in UK child poverty. This is something that surely must be entirely at odds with your organisation’s mission.

Uber donation

From Uber weekly update email to drivers

I’m a member of GMB and I’m very grateful for their support in a legal case I and colleagues are bringing against Uber to force the recognition of our worker rights. Last month I worked 53 hours per week for Uber and yet earned just £5.03 per hour. Currently there are approximately 15,000 Uber cars in London and the company has set a target to increase that to 45,000 by next spring thanks to a laissez faire approach taken by Transport for London in allowing the unlimited issue of licenses regardless of the human cost. Drivers are working increasing hours away from their families to make ends meet and battling fatigue is an ever present struggle. There is suffering too amongst London’s iconic Black Taxi fleet whose drivers report a decline in incomes in the range of 40% which must surely be already causing serious social difficulties.

Now, I don’t believe anyone is in favour of curbing the development of a fair and free market for taxi and private hire in London. Nor is anyone realistically calling for a roll back of technology. In fact, contrary to the prevailing media narrative, most drivers embrace these technologies as a welcome way to expand and serve our market. What is not welcome is the misuse of technology to offer consumers our services below a fair economic rate which is driving many into poverty. Your own website defines poverty as those earning £15,000 per year per household assuming a couple supporting two children. Similarly, the Child Poverty Action Group says a cause of poverty is:

Low paid work: many low wage jobs offer no prospect of progression (‘low pay, low prospects’); others are insecure, providing sporadic and unpredictable incomes (‘low pay, no pay’). As a result they are often nothing more than poverty traps.

My current annual Uber income based on August earnings is in the range of just £10,500, hence, I am unable to meet the requested donation to Save the Children circulated by Uber to its drivers. And the situation is about to get much worse for drivers, many of whom rely on working tax credits. Incomes will continue to decline as TfL issues more and more private hire licenses to meet Uber’s growth targets and meanwhile the government plans to cut working tax credits and free school meals. In addition, firms such as Uber process all transactions off shore which denies the HMRC of tax payments essential to support our education and NHS systems. It’s a perfect storm of deprivation and it’s hard to imagine a more powerful accelerator of poverty in the UK today than Uber.

So what is the solution? One of the policy solutions Save the Children proposes is:

Ensure that those in work are not being paid below the poverty line, by backing the living wage and increasing the minimum wage.  

I couldn’t agree more and when our GMB backed legal action succeeds we will have some assurance that Uber drivers will at least earn the legal minimum wage and Uber would have greater responsibilities for operational safety. If TfL, as a government organised body, could be persuaded to take action now to limit the number of licenses issued so as to maintain reasonable income levels this would offer greater economic security for taxi and private hire drivers. It would also contribute to greater public safety with less risk of driver fatigue and cleaner air for London’s children.

Would you please lend your organisation’s support of our efforts for economic justice for private hire and taxi drivers and call on Transport for London and Uber to do the right thing? Uber drivers have selflessly helped Save the Children assist Syrian refugees. Black Taxi drivers have so often helped our war veterans and sick children. Now we need you to help all of us by speaking out in support of implementation of your own policy propositions. 100,000 London families are counting on you.

Best Regards

Stay safe and Uber with an apple

Most Uber drivers I know are brilliant, on the hoof, mathematicians. They know exactly how much money they need to make each day to cover Uber’s commission fees, Uber’s network charges, fuel, insurance, maintenance, licensing and so on. Then they will have another daily number in mind beyond costs for the income they need to keep their families above the breadline. Unfortunately, the working day required to reach this minimum required income number is getting longer and longer.

Last month I netted £5.03 per hour compared to Uber’s taking of £2.65 for every hour I worked. I’ve worked up to 90 hours per week while still trying to have a home life. I also tend to work nights more as I find I can complete trips faster due to less congestion which means more income per hour. Over time a chronic lack of sleep and exercise takes a toll on the body and it can be a struggle sometimes for some of us to stay awake behind the wheel.

Here are my tips for Uber drivers to manage fatigue risk:

  1. Rest. If you feel sleepy on the road you must end the journey immediately, pull over and sleep. Help you rider re book, explain the situation and the reason for your tiredness. Any reasonable passenger will understand the seriousness of the situation, will cooperate and appreciate your professionalism. Getting yourself or the rider killed or seriously injured is not worth any financial gain you are chasing.
  2. Join GMB Pro Drivers. As the largest trade union in the country, GMB is challenging Uber in the courts to respect our statutory workers rights. When successful this does not mean we will lose any of the flexibility and independence we love about working for Uber. But it will mean Uber must ensure we earn at least the minimum wage of £6.50 per hour and must also take responsibility for occupational safety. Private hire drivers are almost 75,000 strong in London but we must better organize to ensure we all get a fair and safe deal so that 20 hour days can be consigned to history.
  3. Understand your body. We all have different profiles, some are morning people and some are night owls. Working and eating at irregular times throws the body’s circadian rhythm out of whack. It’s important to know what contributes to our fatigue, to predict our body’s reaction and to know when we’ve had enough. There are a number of brilliant, easy to use apps out there to help keep track and to understand your own unique circadian rhythm. I really like Jeppesen’s CrewAlert designed for pilots but just as usable for us. I like the holistic approach Jeppesen take with fatigue monitoring and management. I promise you will learn a lot about your fatigue limitations with this app though it does cost $30. I am trialing Drowsy Driver at the moment and I really like the idea of facial monitoring to detect signs of fatigue while you are driving. It’s free and could be a great supplement rather than replacement to CrewAlert.

These are just my few personal tips on fatigue risk management and I hope it’s helpful. For our own sake, for the sake of our customers and other road users I’d dearly love to see TfL as regulator, as well as Uber, Addison Lee and all other operators pay some serious attention to occupational safety. Sadly I’ve seen precious little interest in doing so yet drivers are being pushed beyond human endurance by the actions of the regulator and operators just to eek out a modest living.

Tfl’s neglect of private hire driver safety is especially egregious since it unleashes Operation Neon in the name of safety to prosecute drivers not wearing their badge or parking in the wrong place. But for all TfL care, we can drive around the clock, underpaid, in an over supplied market they have licensed without any regard for the consequences for driver or public safety. TfL greedily licenses upwards of 1,000 new licenses a month to feed Uber’s ambition to grow its platform from the current 15,000 drivers to 45,000 by next spring. It’s a nice little earner for TfL but at what cost to public safety?

Another part of the explanation for a lack of attention to safety by operators is perhaps a cynical attempt by some to push all operational risk to the driver alone. The following for example is from Uber’s current Terms of Service to its customers.

Screenshot_2015-09-19-21-35-51

Finally, here’s an old pilots trick to stay awake when those eyes get heavy: eat an apple. It works for me. I don’t know why but something about eating an apple always perks me up and helps get me home safely. If you’re a regular Uber rider you might consider bringing an extra apple in case your driver is looking a little drowsy. It could save both your lives.

14613868624_55f0fcbcd5_o

Credit: Flickr, Mark Seton

Why my below minimum wage Uber London income hurts everyone

A few weeks ago my income accounts were the subject of a GMB press release. It was a weird mix of empowerment and humiliation to have such personal data released into the public domain. Earning just £5.03 per hour over a month on an average 53 hour week is, frankly, embarrassing. But it’s heartening to feel the support of GMB and political leaders like Sadiq Khan, David Lammy, Diane Abbott and even Zac Goldsmith now rallying to the cause of bringing Uber to Employment Tribunal to assert worker rights currently denied. This is a legal action reluctantly brought myself and a growing number of Uber drivers who feel we have simply run out of options.

But is this just the problem of a minority? I get the impression that we private hire drivers like to keep a brave face on things and make out that things are better than they really are. I know I’m not the only one financially hurting from the Uber experience. We have to face the fact that TfL are saturating the market with a 1,000 new private hire licensed on the road each month, month after month. These drivers are lured in on the promise from Uber that you can make £4,000 per month.

uber offer

The cold forces of economics suggest things can’t end well for private hire drivers. Uber and it’s customers enjoy all the positive benefits of network effects created by drivers. The drivers, however, must bear the cost of economic inefficiency and the negative network effects. Put simply, Uber needs a car on every corner to drive down response times and that is achieved through an excess of drivers hanging around waiting for a job. With 15,000 already on the road, the company has an objective of boosting that number to 45,000 in London by next spring. And as quick as TfL take our money for license fees they unleash Operation Neon exclusively against Private Hire drivers struggling to operate in ever crowded streets. It’s quite simply Kafkaesque regulatory behaviour.

At the macro level there are other costs which most be borne externally. Londoner’s are beginning to notice additional congestion caused by increasing numbers of private hire cars which in turn contributes to reduced air quality and poor traffic flow.

TfL’s public transport network is starved of incremental traffic as passengers are lured off busses and trains by below cost Uber fares. TfL still has to support the cost of it’s network so lost custom can only mean higher fares for Londoners still. This leads to death spiral of under investment driving even more passengers into the Uber embrace  Make no mistake, Uber does indeed see itself not only in competition with taxis but also with the entire public transportation system. Says Travis Kalanick:

Uber’s mission is to go to every major city in the world and roll out an efficient, convenient, elegant transportation system. I like to think Uber is creating a new way of getting around cities.

Travis Kalanick on public transportation. Credit: Melody McCloskey, FLICKR

The irony of such lofty claims of reinventing the wheel is rather brilliantly satirized by Anil Dash in his piece Uber for Uber. I commend it to every public transport policy maker in London and especially to Boris Johnson who thinks anyone not drinking the Uber Kool Aid by now is a luddite.

And there are other losers. With many drivers earning so little, they have to rely on working tax credits to supplement their income to keep the family above water. This serves as an effective public subsidy to a company that genuflects at the altar of the free market. VAT receipts are enjoyed by citizens of the Netherlands for every trip made in London since all transactions are recorded and processed there.

There is also a wider point of principle at play here. No doubt other large employers are watching the Uber revolution with interest. If Uber is allowed to erode worker rights to the extent they have done in London and get away with it, you can be sure many, many old school employers will be lining up to attempt to do the same. Nurses, teachers, cleaners, white collar office workers, hotel workers and doctors will overnight become self employed micro entrepreneurs. They too will enjoy the flexibility of an endless work day and the excitement of sharing all the business risk but little in the way of reward. This casualization of employment cannot be just waved through without our consensus and consent.

And then we come to the black cab trade. They’ve never welcomed private hire competition no matter what form it takes. I’m not going to comment here on the ply for hire definition debate. But suffice to say, when Uber is enabled to offer below cost fares – supported by below minimum wage payments, working tax credits and beneficial overseas VAT regimes – we must recognise London’s Cabbies are fighting market forces on a far from level playing field.

Finally a note about safety. With ever declining incomes, drivers have little choice but to put in excess hours to cover their costs. Uber bears no responsibility for the inevitable risk of fatigue and TfL does not enforce any standards on working hours. I genuinely fear for the safety of Londoners getting into an Uber car, or being in vicinity of one, when the driver has worked 20 hours straight.

For these reasons the GMB legal challenge for workers rights is crucial. When successful, Uber will be forced to acknowledge a floor in the market at minimum wage below which no driver can fall. Uber will also be obliged to observe its responsibility for operational safety. Despite what you may hear to the contrary, neither of these will destroy the Uber model or represent an attack on innovation and new ways of working. Indeed, private hire drivers, myself included, love the flexibility of the Uber business model. Rather, this claim is just an old fashioned matter of decency and Uber doing the right thing for the sake of all Londoners.

Fit for purpose? The shocking lack of diversity on TfL’s board

One of the things I love about London is it’s cultural diversity. It brings energy and restlessness to an ever changing cityscape. The economy and our culture benefits greatly from the creative contribution from so many different backgrounds. To positively make the best of our demography, our institutions must embrace and reflect the make up of the people of this great city. To fail to do so is a missed opportunity at best and discriminatory at worst.

london diversity

London’s population by ethnicity http://www.londonspovertyprofile.org.uk/indicators/topics/londons-geography-population/londons-population-by-ethnicity/

And it’s hard to imagine another institution besides TfL that really should benefit from and, has a social responsibility to, reflect the great diversity of the city. After all, TfL provides an essential mobility service for all 8.3 million Londoners with more than 1.3 billion tube and 2.4 billion passenger journeys last year alone.

Consider too it’s funding structure made up of mix of fares and tax payer supported funding streams. We Londoner’s fund this enterprise directly through fares or indirectly through our taxes and we suffer some of the highest fares in the world for public transportation. Surely then TfL’s board should look a bit like us and reflect our priorities.

TfL funding

However, even with a cursory read of TfL’s  2014/15 workforce monitoring report it’s clear the organisation has a problem.  First, the representation of women in the workforce overall is abysmal and gets worse when you look at the operational data. Disappointingly the report doesn’t really explain why. Beyond that there isn’t too much to quibble about at the macro level when it comes to minority representation.

Tfl diversity workforce

But go up stairs to non executive board level and it is an entirely different story. The gender statistics remain similar with 4 of the 17 positions taken by women. But sadly, rather, shockingly – there appears to be no minority representation at all. It’s the same story for the executive officers running the day to day operation. Moreover, the majority of these folks are captains of finance and industry mostly. I doubt many have much experience commuting daily on TfL supplied public transportation or as a worker keeping the operation going.

But does it matter? Of course it does. TfL is not a private enterprise where the board represents the interests of private shareholders. TfL is a public body which we fund and must reflect our needs. Besides, a board that doesn’t reflect or represent our values, needs and interests defaults to representing its own narrow interests. A board that doesn’t reflect the diversity of it’s workforce is ill equipped to manage a 21st century workplace. Strategic choices are doomed to become muddled by the lack of an appropriate, true north star.

In this context,  its not surprising that TfL hasn’t taken action to stop the undermining threat to that great London institution, the black taxi.

It’s not surprising that it continues to mint private hire licenses while driver incomes sink below minimum wage and the streets become congested with the over supply.

It’s not surprising that TfL wages an indefinite & unjust enforcement campaign amounting to a violation of civil liberties against, and tolerates below minimum wages for, private hire drivers.

It’s not surprising that they look at the ranks of near 75,000 hard working Londoner’s licensed as private hire drivers and only see ‘potential sex offenders’.

Its time for a change at the top. Londoners deserve better.

Uber, Addison Lee and TfL fail London’s vulnerable children in neglecting Operation Make Safe

make safeEarlier this week I attended a very interesting presentation from a senior Metropolitan Police officer at a GMB branch meeting. The subject was Operation Make Safe, an awareness campaign to help educate key consumer service workers on the signs of possible child sexual exploitation in vulnerable young people who may pass our line of site.

The good officer thought this might be a mere recapping exercise since according to him, TfL, Addison Lee and Uber had been briefed and had agreed to cascade the programme to drivers. He thought this had already happened and we drivers would be well aware of the programme. There was soon a collective sense of dismay and disbelief in the room when we all quickly realized that none of the above operators had done any such thing.

Ironic then that just a few days later Uber was running a high media profile campaign in partnership with Save the Children to collect materials for vulnerable families caught in the current migrant crisis.

Besides the obvious neglect of civic duty it was a missed opportunity for all to engage and educate drivers for a cause of common good. I’m sure all drivers would have appreciated the information and the request to assist in looking out for vulnerable. I have no doubt that the vast majority do this anyway without need for prompting but the engagement could have been a real trust builder. Trust has been badly eroded by the contradicting actions of TfL by over supplying the market with private hire licenses and then launching Operation Neon against us because too many of us are apparently clogging up the city.

Contrast and consider instead the actions of TfL’s board member Michael Liebreich who chose to comprehend private hire drivers as ‘potential sex attackers’. Imagine if instead he and others had chosen to ask us for our help to be vigilant and to be guardians of the public. Imagine if we were respectfully asked to help police the streets and watch out for the vulnerable. I know most drivers do already go above and beyond to take care of their passengers and the public. It just would have been nice to be asked and recognized for our role in doing just that.

I hope TfL, Addison Lee, Uber and any other operator asked to cooperate with Operation Make Safe will now do so without any further delay. And if you’re a driver, don’t wait – download and read all the training materials which you can find here.

Time for resignation: Michael Liebreich rides shotgun with TfL’s Operation Neon farce force

michael-liebreich-future-mayor-oMichael Liebreich is going to save the world or at least get rich trying. As such, that might just be a simpler task than getting the TfL, where Liebreich is a non executive board member, to play fair when it comes to the deeply flawed Operation Neon enforcement against London’s private hire drivers.

Liebreich is a green energy money man, a new age proponent of market based solutions to the planet’s ecological problems. He founded New Energy Finance in 2004, a green energy investment advisory service, before flogging it to Bloomberg in 2009. He considered a run for Mayor of London in the 2016 election but was probably rather rapidly eclipsed by that better known & old moneyed Tory environmentalist, Zac Goldsmith.

But tomorrow’s another day and what better way to prepare for a run for the 2020 Mayoralty than a seat on the TfL board and night out tout hunting with the affront to civil liberties that is Operation Neon. So last Friday night Michael set off for Shoreditch riding shotgun with the crack enforcement team.

By all accounts it was a spectacularly exciting evening for the budding politician. Not only did the newly minted Sheriff see touts but also ‘potential sex attackers’ in TfL’s weekly dragnet through the ranks of private hire drivers. Yes, real life ‘potential sex attackers’. In Shoreditch. As private hire drivers. It’s the kind of moral panic worthy of a Brass Eye episode.

M Liebreich _2015-09-10-03-00-31Now I’ve asked the official TfL twitter account for detail on the ‘potential sex attackers’ but neither they nor Mr Liebreich are prepared to comment. However, I’m not happy to let the matter rest here and further requests will be made until the matter has been properly exposed.

You see, Liebreich saw nothing of the sort, how could he have? How could he have possibly known who is likely to be a ‘potential sex attacker’? But these lose words are not only incredibly damaging to the private hire trade but they are deeply offensive to all drivers in the trade who have been collectively smeared. To Liebreich we must all be ‘potential sex attackers’.

Liebreich missed an important opportunity to use his non executive role to stand back and reflect carefully on operation neon – the circumstances of its commissioning and the gap between its objectives and results. Instead, he was swept up in the bravado of the moment and trammeled over the rights and reputations of hard working drivers. In doing so he proved himself unworthy of his position on TfL’s board let alone higher office.

He should apologize, resign and return to private life.

Vote Sadiq now

After quite a bit of time reaching out to the Mayoral candidates, only Tessa Jowell has failed to back our GMB campaign for worker rights for Uber drivers. Last night Sadiq Khan gave to the most unconditional support yet of any Mayoral candidate.

Screenshot_2015-09-09-15-59-27Tessa Jowell ran an #asktess session on twitter this morning which had fairly sparse participation. I asked on numerous occasions if she would back our campaign. No answer. She did have time to answer a few questions on Brass Eye, where she buys her shoes and her opinion on sitcom scenarios from Friends. She also said with regard to Uber she wanted to see a ‘level playing field’ and for Uber to ‘pay taxes on UK profits’. What is actually meant by the first is anyone’s guess and the second is beyond the gift of Mayor.

It is clear now that Tessa Jowell is not prepared at this stage to confront Uber’s exploitative business model. That a Labour candidate in 2015 cannot speak for labour rights is sad indeed and it goes some way to explaining the disillusionment of party members that has given rise to Corbynism.  Moreover, it doesn’t auger well for the health of our democracy that the threat of lobbyist power from Uber in  London’s City Hall is already this strong having been emboldened by their victory against Mayor DeBlasio in New York. In the event Tessa wins we will need to pick up our efforts to ensure our voice is heard. A week is a long time in politics.

Whether you are a black taxi driver or a private hire driver or, indeed, any Londoner interested in justice and fairness with a vote in the Labour party  – you must vote for Sadiq Khan.