Monthly Archives: October 2015

The dirty war against Uber drivers at Heathrow

Local residents in the Heathrow area are often as angry as wasps in October. They suffer the poorest air quality in London, live under the Damocles sword of a third runway which could wipe out whole villages – even graveyards and they suffer incessant noise from early morning to darkest night. The latest cause for complaint is an influx of Uber drivers plotting near Heathrow as they rest and wait for a booking back out of the airport.

I don’t blame the residents for their upset at having their streets congested with far many more cars than they were designed for and every spare parking space occupied. I can tell you it is no fun for us drivers either.

Last December Uber announced the introduction of a virtual queuing system for drivers. This at least prevented drivers from overcrowding the departure drop off ramps as they jockeyed to be at the closest geo location to the customer ping which is how Uber jobs are usually assigned. Uber introduced geo locked out zones so that drivers could not wait anywhere on airport property. I understand this measure was taken after Heathrow airport threatened to ban Uber from the airport entirely.

The results were entirely predictable – Heathrow’s pressure on Uber served only to export this problem into the local community rather than finding a sensible solution on site. For its part, Uber’s Director of Operations, Alex Cappy personally told me last December 2014 that the virtual queuing system would be upgraded within a week or two to make the driver’s position in the queue and predicted job time transparent. 10 months later and Uber still hasn’t bothered to make these changes despite the introduction of other useless features such as having to answer ‘are you sure you want to log off’ after you have selected to log off. Other features have been added that the customer may enjoy but add more complexity for the driver include the Spotify streaming feature. In short, Uber has devoted plenty of resources to add customer features and maximize driver capacity on the streets but done absolutely nothing to add features to make  the drivers job easier or safer.

Now, after renewed pressure from residents, groups stoked up by Addison Lee mouthpiece and Wright family business – the LPHCA – we’re on the move again. The geo lock out map has been changed and drivers have been driven out of the usual waiting spots such as Spouts Lane. The changes will do nothing but export the problem once more from one neighborhood to another. It is true that, like anyone else, we can use the Long Term car park for free for up to 2 hours but what happens when the two hours are up? What do we do when the LT car park is closed later in the evenings as it usually is. I often parked in the lower Bath Road towards Longford village and paid for parking but alas I’m now pushed out of that non residential area by geo lock out and must instead park in residential streets north of the Bath Road. How does that help anyone?

So what is behind all this? Some pretty nasty characters who don’t mind denigrating the good name of hard working drivers to further their own greed aims. Enter the LPHCA who have engaged Clifford Chance to literally dig up the dirt. LPHCA have form when it comes to hitting below the belt. In a legal filing leaked (no pun intended) to the Business Insider, the LPHCA accuses Uber drivers of:

‘sleeping in cars…. blocking residents driveways, garages and cul-de-sacs and defecating or urinating in gardens’

Clifford Chance

None of this is true, but if it were I wonder how Clifford Chance might know that a driver is likely to urinate or defecate but apparently not both at the same time? I digress.

This twaddle was further circulated yesterday by a Boris Johnson devotee who had the cheek to imagine an unclean driver with unclean hands and then just a few tweets later piously claim she doesn’t like people who sneer at the poor.

angela 1

angela 2

But lest I too be labelled as being a hypocrite, I must confess that, much to my eternal shame, my own union branch GMB ProDrivers has also criticized drivers and fielded local resident complaints. It’s not a position I agree with, have protested loudly about and hope never to see repeated. Unions must always support workers in distress and believe me, this is a distressed and distressing situation.

I have spent many, many hours on Spouts Lane and elsewhere at Heathrow. I have met only good, honorable, hard working people working with dignity to support their families against the economic odds. I have never witnessed any driver littering let alone defecating or urinating. Neither, I would hazard a guess, have any of the blowhards from LPHCA  or any other trade organisation including LCDC members who too have perpetuated this myth. I have personally never seen one worthy person from any of these organisations come and talk to the drivers personally to investigate the situation and hear our side of the story. But I guess we’re simply collateral damage between Uber and its competitors. It is nothing more than dog whistle politics of racism.

And even supposing for one second this is true, what is the root cause? Drivers are virtually kettled into Geo Locations assigned by Uber at its discretion only. Heathrow Airport cuts us none of the slack afforded Black Cabs, we are not allowed to pick up on the arrival ramps just so Heathrow Airport Limited can collect £3.50 for a 30 minute window to pick up the passenger. As for drivers sleeping in their cars – so what? Would LPHCA rather a driver didn’t take a rest break and drove himself and passengers into a lamppost from fatigue induced hypnosis? There is an easy fix for this problem – Uber, LPHCA and TfL should restrict working hours for all private hire drivers. I’d like to see if Addison Lee and LPHCA would be willing to back that.

Finally, let us deal with the toilet problem. Even if this was true which it most certainly is not – what of the indignity of a worker forced to endure working conditions without appropriate rest breaks & toilet facilities? Unions the world over have rightly complained about the indignity of workers having to endure a lack of toilet facilities at work. How is the situation at Spouts Lane any different, where is the chorus of complaint over these symptoms of the most horrendous working conditions?

As for LPHCA, Clifford Chance and other supposed trade leaders – they all should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves in further exploiting the very poorest in their dirty proxy war against a very wealthy competitor.

Uber should be ashamed for not deploying one penny of investment in it’s much vaunted technology to make the most essential of improvements of the driver app. In simply knowing the size of the queue you are joining, we drivers can make a rational choice to wait or go and thereby manage their toileting accordingly. It is a self regulating system, if the queue is too long to join you don’t clog up residential streets to blindly join a queue that could be 5 minutes or 5 hours.

Heathrow Airport Limited are far from blameless either. The airport is an intermodal transport hub and their customers need to arrive and depart the airport by road or rail. We are only at the airport to serve our mutual customers. Uber carries thousands of Heathrow Airport customers in and out of the airport everyday generating millions of pounds in revenue for the airport.

We deserve to be able to do our job in dignity and without harassment, indignity and racist denigration. Uber, TfL and Heathrow Airport Limited need to sit down and find a rational solution even if it costs one or the other money to do so. And here is a novel solution for all — how about actually consulting drivers about this?  Passing the buck to one local community after another and scape goating drivers is not a solution to anything.

16 questions for TfL about the new Uber driver contract

Long post alert.

Last week TfL responded to some concerns I had about the new Uber driver contract and its potential knock on threat to driver compliance by muddying the water between the separate roles of the operator and driver. In a separate DM on twitter TfL agreed to take questions and have their legal team review. I sent over the following questions based on my own concerns and those from drivers that I’ve heard including at two separate workshops amongst drivers. Uber have refused to provide any further guidance beyond the 22 pages of the contract and addendum but they are welcome to comment here if they can answer any of the questions posed to TfL. When TfL respond – assuming they are as good as their word – I’ll post any answers I get in the interests of the community.

Here goes:

  1. Uber is asking me to agree that it is a technology services provider and does not provide ‘transportation services, function as a transport carrier or agent for the transportation of passengers.’ In agreeing to this does it mean I am agreeing to drive for an entity that is not an operator as defined by the law? If yes and if I do so am I breaking the law?


  1. The contract specifies: ‘Driver will obtain the destination from the User, either in person upon pickup or from the Driver App if the User elects to enter such destination via Uber’s mobile application.’ However TfL Operators Regulations on operator record keeping 11.d say the operator must record ‘the main specified destination at the time of the booking’. If I accept an Uber booking and it turns out that no destination is entered am I breaking the law if I do not cancel the booking immediately?


  1. The Uber contracts says: ‘As between Uber and Customer, Customer acknowledges and agrees that: (a) Customer and its Drivers are solely responsible for determining the most effective, efficient and safe manner to perform each instance of Transportation Services.’ In the contract Uber broadly defines drivers as customers. Given that a common rider concern or complaint relates to the route taken does this mean the driver must now maintain for TfL a complaint log rather than the Operator per operator regulations 14.1 & 2? It is important that TfL clarify this and directs Uber to route all complaints directly to the driver. At the moment Uber does not, instead Uber will deduct from driver income any refunds it decides to give at its sole discretion. This is an important point of clarity not only for drivers but also the travelling public as to where accountability lies and how complaints are to be handled.


  1. The Addendum also stipulates the following: ‘Uber and its Affiliates in the Territory do not, and shall not be deemed to, direct or control Driver generally or in Driver’s performance of Transportation Services or maintenance of any Vehicles. Driver acknowledges that neither Uber nor any of its Affiliates in the Territory controls, or purports to control: (a) when or for how long Driver will utilize the Driver App or the Uber Services..’ Similarly, I’m concerned if I accept this clause I will defacto become an operator and will be faced with the costs and responsibilities that such would entail. I’d be grateful for your opinion.


  1. The new Uber driver contract says: ‘Driver may be deactivated or otherwise restricted from accessing or using the Driver App or the Uber Services in the event of a violation of this Addendum or Transportation Company’s violation of the Agreement, or Driver’s or Transportation Company’s disparagement of Uber or any of its Affiliates, or Driver’s or Transportation Company’s act or omission that causes harm to Uber’s or any of its Affiliates’ brand, reputation or business as determined by Uber in its sole discretion.’ There maybe rare occasions when a driver correctly believes the operator (if Uber is indeed an operator) is not fulfilling its duties according to the law and such breaches are of vital public interest.  I’m concerned such a driver who whistleblows these concerns  to TfL or other regulatory authorities will be perceived as ‘disparaging’ by Uber leading to his dismissal. If this were to happen, will such communication be protected under public interest disclosure laws? Will TfL represent the driver in any such dispute with the operator to prevent loss of livelihood and to maintain a safe haven for public interest disclosure?


  1. The new Uber contract specifies that drivers may lose their job if they cannot maintain a rider ratings level specified by Uber. However, common sense and collective experience shows that drivers ratings decline when Uber deploys surge, dynamic pricing on the market. Is dynamic pricing legally permissible? Can TfL require Uber to declare the correlation between surge pricing and driver ratings so that this factor maybe factored out before any decision to dismiss a driver? This pricing model incentivizes drivers to work when prices are high but fear of dismissal can also force us to work only when prices are low.


  1. The new Uber driver contracts says ‘Uber and its Affiliates reserve the right to use, share and display Driver and User ratings and comments in any manner in connection with the business of Uber and its Affiliates without attribution to or approval of Driver. Driver acknowledges that Uber and its Affiliates are distributors (without any obligation to verify) and not publishers of Driver and User ratings and comments..’ There is an obvious concern for driver safety and privacy when their Uber profile and data is posted on the internet by riders in connection with a customer service complaint. At the moment this happens on a daily basis relating to complaints well outside of the driver’s control such as account fraud, Uber cancellation charges and so on. If the Operator takes no responsibility for protecting driver privacy I can envisage serious harm as a result of internet shaming. Under current and proposed regulations is it possible to require the Operator to take responsibility for safeguarding driver data?


  1. The new Uber driver contract says they driver is allowed to renegotiate the fare with the rider but only for a reduced fare but not an increased one. Under terms of my license will I be breaking the law if I renegotiate the pre booked fare? Am I, as driver, permitted to increase the fare under TfL regulations?


  1. The new Uber driver contract says ‘As between Uber and Customer, Customer acknowledges and agrees that: (a) Customer and its Drivers are solely responsible for determining the most effective, efficient and safe manner to perform each instance of Transportation Services.’ but also says Uber and/or its Affiliates in the Territory reserve the right to: (i) adjust the Fare for a particular instance of Transportation Services (e.g., Driver took an inefficient route,. This is very confusing for us drivers. Under the current regulations who exactly is responsible for adjusting fares and refunding customers? Is it the driver or the Operator? Is Uber an Operator as it defines itself in this contract?


  1. The new Uber driver contract specifies: ‘Customer agrees to maintain during the term of this Agreement commercial general liability insurance that provides protection against personal injury, advertising injury and property damage to third parties at levels of coverage required by all applicable laws in the Territory.’ This is in addition to a requirement to carry ‘no fault’ vehicle insurance which I take to be comprehensive car insurance. However, the operator regulations specify it is the Operator who must maintain general liability insurance of no less than £5 mio at least for the operations centre. Can you advise on what kind of additional commercial liability insurance drivers should buy? Uber has declined to explain. If I take out commercial insurance am I acting as an operator and therefore breaking the law? If I take out such insurance where should the injured party look first for compensation – the driver or Uber’s policy?


  1. The new driver contract also demands that Uber is named as additional insured party in the driver and commercial liability policy. Again, I’m keen not to blur the lines between the operator and driver. Is it appropriate or even a requirement for the driver to insure the operator? Should it not be the other way around? The contract also demands I must inform Uber if I have any claim on such policies even if there is no rider in the car or if I am using the car privately. Is this a regulatory requirement and Uber is demanding this data to pass on to TfL as part of a regulatory requirement?


  1. Uber also included the following in the contract which greatly worries me in terms of safety and security management: ‘By using the Uber Services and Driver App, Customer acknowledges and agrees that Customer or a Driver may be introduced to a third party (including Users) that may pose harm or risk to Customer, a Driver or other third parties. Customer and Drivers are advised to take reasonable precautions with respect to interactions with third parties encountered in connection with the use of the Uber Services or Driver App. Notwithstanding Uber’s appointment as the limited payment collection agent of Customer for the purpose of accepting payment from Users on behalf of Customer as set forth in Section 4 above, Uber expressly disclaims all liability for any act or omission of Customer, any Driver, any User or other third party.’ Earlier this year I was assaulted by a customer and it took Uber more than 10 weeks to comply with Metropolitan Police requests for rider identity and other information necessary to the investigation. Uber refused to disclose if the rider was ever removed from the platform so as to reduce future risk to drivers. I have reason to believe they were not. What responsibilities does the Operator have to protect the driver on the front line? Surely, Uber has a responsibility to not knowingly introduce drivers to riders known to have caused injury to other drivers?


  1. The next clause really worries me a lot. Customer shall indemnify, defend (at Uber’s option) and hold harmless Uber and its Affiliates and their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, successors and assigns from and against any and all liabilities, expenses (including legal fees), damages, penalties, fines, social security contributions and taxes arising out of or related to: (a) Customer’s breach of its representations, warranties or obligations under this Agreement; or (b) a claim by a third party (including Users, regulators and governmental authorities) directly or indirectly related to Customer’s provision of Transportation Services or use of the Uber Services. If TfL were to take legal action against Uber as an operator for something that relates directly or indirectly to my actions as a driver could I end up having to pay Uber’s legal bills in their dealing with such a complaint from TfL?


  1. Similarly for this next clause, by signing this contract would I be accepting all of Uber’s regulatory responsibilities as an Operator? Will TfL now hold me accountable for Operator responsibilities? As between Customer and Uber, Customer is and shall be solely responsible for its Drivers’ provision of Transportation Services. As such, Customer shall indemnify, defend (at Uber’s option) and hold harmless Uber and its Affiliates and their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, successors and assigns from and against any and all liabilities, expenses (including legal fees), damages, penalties, fines, social security contributions and taxes directly or indirectly arising out of or related to its Drivers’ provision of Transportation Services or use of the Uber Services.


  1. The contract also specifies I must agree: ‘The parties expressly agree that: (a) this Agreement is not an employment agreement, nor does it create an employment relationship (including from a labor law, tax law or social security law perspective), between Uber (or any of its Affiliates in the Territory) and a Customer or any Driver; and (b) no joint venture, partnership, or agency relationship exists between Uber and Customer or Uber and any Driver.’ Obviously I don’t want to give up any statutory rights especially to worker rights. By signing this am I giving up these rights? Does TfL have a policy on fair employment agreements in the private hire trade between operators and drivers? Is there a TfL regulation that requires the Operator to obey all employment laws in order to keep its license? More confusingly the Addendum stipulates: ‘Driver currently maintains a contractual or employment arrangement with Transportation Company to perform passenger carriage services for Transportation Company.’ Does this mean that I cannot  be a driver as an individual sole trader? I appreciate this is a question for Uber but they are not prepared to take questions on the contract. While the main contract refers to me broadly as the ‘customer’, the addendum refers to me as ‘the transportation company’ and the ‘driver’ which is all very confusing for us. Does TfL see these roles as separate functions under the regulations and if so which responsibilities are assigned to the Operator as distinct from Driver?


  1. Finally I appreciate your advice on the arbitration clause. Arbitration is binding, confidential and can only be accesses in the Netherlands. If I have a dispute with Uber over terms that I am worried would place me outside of compliance with TfL I would not be able to disclose this to the regulator. Or is it possible that the obligation to disclose to TfL supersedes any agreement on arbitration arrangements?

Uber X global fares compared on the Big Mac Index


Comparing incomes across cities, countries and currencies has given many an economist a sleepless night so it might seem impossible then for an average driver to look at Uber fares across the world to determine if his or her local income represents fair fares. There are many ways to skin a louse but one tried and tested econometric method is the good old Big Mac index.

It turns out that the humble Big Mac is one of the best ways of measuring relative purchasing power parity across the world. McDonalds has become more effective than currency traders in setting a bench mark by pricing their flag ship burger at a fairly similar level of affordability at the local level. Since 1996 the Economist magazine has published its Big Mac Index as a global economic indicator. Its a no nonsense rule of thumb to compare your costs and income to a fairly steady global anchor – the local price of a Big mac.

This method is by no means perfect and has some real limitations. For example the Big Mac stays at a relatively similar price throughout any country but local conditions are quite different. For example a Big Mac might be the same price in Glasgow and London but the actual cost of living is dramatically different. When looking at actual fare price points, Uber may have chosen to pitch higher or lower depending on prevailing local prices at the time, its ability to get good supply into the market and regulatory conditions. Still its a useful perspective to compare Uber X prices to the Big Mac because Uber X is becoming like the Big Mac in its common recognition – usually a Toyota Prius priced per minute plus per km/mile.

So borrowing from that methodology I picked some key Uber cities, normalized mileage charges to a common per kilometer measure and then calculated two notional journeys of 3.5km and 10km taking 15 and 20 minutes respectively. These times and distances represent average speeds for central London and major London urban routeways as reported by TfL. The assumed speeds are 9mph for central areas and 19mph for urban routeways.

By taking a longer and shorter journey sample we have the chance to see a flexing of distance and times to see if it changes the picture radically. It doesn’t. Here are the results:

Uber 3.5kmUber 10km

So what does it tell us?

First, it shows just aggressively Uber has positioned itself in the London market. It has priced below the other major financial capital cities such as Frankfurt, New York and Zurich. We could expect these cities to command high premiums yet Uber is pitched well below the parity mark for London.

The data also suggests Uber really drives down the prices where the prevailing market conditions allow it to. Despite anchoring the index to the Big Mac, Uber has driven down or joined the lowest prices in the least developed parts of the world. Bangkok, Manilla and Jakarta provide the lowest fares. Why is it that in Stockholm I can earn 5.5 Big Macs for my 10km 20 minute fare whereas in London it is only it is just 4.6 and in Manilla I can only earn 0.84 ? These are actually quite huge global variances that need much more careful study.

But based on the data data we have here the indications are troubling. I would have expected to see Uber depress prices in high priced, highly regulated markets but improve standards and increase prices in the least developed countries. Remember a Big Mac is always the same but there is a considerable difference between a tuk tuk and a London black cab. The Prius as a common product should have represented an increased standard and price in the least developed markets. The Prius is the automotive equivalent of the Big Mac, so the only variant left to squeeze is driver labour costs. The indications are that the Uber is a one way phenomena – down.

Within Europe are we surprised that ‘big government’ countries and cities like Stockholm, Frankfurt and Zurich while more mercantile countries like the Netherlands and Britain bear more competitive pricing? I guess in Sajid Javid’s Britain, disruption is the watchword and all disruption is assumed all good. Everyone is presumed a winner. I’m not so sure.

On a like for like basis, the big surprise is just what a premium New York City compares not only relative to London but also against San Francisco. It shows that in NYC, Uber could pitch above the poor service yellow cabs typically provide. Whereas in London Uber has had to slash premiums to pressure the black taxi market.

If I was a government economist in the Department of Transport or responsible for regulatory policy at TfL this data would make me worry. The Uber model means the company as disintermediator can keep cutting fares without worrying too much about the operational risks of deferred maintenance or under insurance for example. The latest driver contract pushed out by Uber once again makes it abundantly clear that drivers bear all risk and Uber bears none.  If Uber owned and operated its own fleet it would have to ensure it could serve the capital and upkeep costs as well as labour and still make a profit before making a price cut decision. But since it acts only as a technology provider or ‘lead generator’ it is also divorced from the broader public consequences of over supply and uneconomic pricing. It’s aim is to grow the platform even if that growth dilutes driver incomes and as a result of that, operating standards. As a policy maker can I be sure these low prices can sustain a safe AND low cost service WITH acceptable standards not just today but for tomorrow as well? What market mechanism is in play here and is it really aligned to the long term interests of Londonders whether rider or driver?

First reaction to High Court decision that Uber is not a meter in London

I must admit to mixed emotions about the High Court devision. On the one hand I’m genuinely happy that my colleagues will continue to be rewarded for both time and distance. This only makes sense when operating in an urban environment which is becoming more constrained and congested.

Yet I can’t help but feel sorry for cabbies who have invested their time and effort in the Knowledge only to see their regulatory rights be slowly taken apart and thrown on the scrap heap as if worthless.  And being objective for a second, as someone who has worked in tech for a long time – whatever the High Court says – Uber is a metered system. Dematerializing the meter and moving into the cloud does not change its essential functions.

More troubling, despite TfL taking the case to court and the Mayor calling cabbies luddites, this ruling would seem to lock cabbies in a box of obsolescence. What if Cabbies were to decide to innovate, move their meters into the cloud to reduce transaction friction – would such a move now put them in a deregulated environment just the same as PH? The regulatory distinction is now worthless to all stakeholders whether driver, rider or competitor. So in 25 years from now will cabbies be forced to stay in an analogue world of mechanical metres in a regulated market or chose to meter in the cloud and then enter a completely unregulated market? What sense is a consumer to make of the distinction between virtual and mechanical metres?

It’s TfL’s job to develop and evolve smart policy not the courts. So the thorny question of what the purpose of regulating a meter is at all must now be tackled by TfL since its now so easy for any operator to escape to the cloud. We should regulate or deregulate by democratic consent not as a by product of a seperate high court technical ruling.

Most of all though, I fear this will be a pyrrhic victory for Uber drivers. Our time, as metered in the cloud, is only worth £7.20 per hour gross before costs. With this ruling – combined with TfL’s failure to cap private hire license issues and the provisions in the proposed private hire regulatory review – I’m not expecting an up lift in my £5.03 per hour take home as a result. In fact, I expect an acceleration to statutory or defacto deregulation and the race to the very bottom with all drivers earning far below the living wage.

Londoners as well as private and public hire drivers may soon all look back on the era of the black cab as salad days indeed.



Uber response to questions on new London driver contract

Anyone in Uber London world will know by now that Uber did a 30,000 foot drop of a new contract and addendum which we drivers must accept in the next few days or be expelled from the platform.

The combined documents add up to twenty two pages of the finest legal jiggery pokery money can buy. What it all means? We’re trying to work that all out.

The good news is that TfL have agreed, at least on twitter, to review it on behalf of us drivers. This is really important because we need to know that if changes Uber is making to it’s business model will have the knock on effect of throwing us drivers out of compliance. The CEO of Addison Lee has already voiced the opinion that we drivers are operating outside the law so there is legitimate reason for caution. In the latest private hire consultation review documents one of the proposals is that all changes to the operator business model should be agreed with TfL first. This new contract dump is good example of why this provision is important.

tfl uber contract

I’ll be joining workshops with other drivers tomorrow to understand more about this contract and what it means.

Unfortunately when Uber are pressed they failed to provide any guidance at all to drivers. This email for example was passed to me:

Uber has now been operating in London since July 2012 and over the that time uber has grown and evolved. As a result, we are constantly looking to refine and improve the Uber experience for both Partners and Riders. Therefore, Uber have reviewed and updated the Partner Terms to reflect the evolving nature of the relationship between the Partner (Customer) and Uber. The new Partner Terms also address queries and questions that have been raised over the last 3 years. It is not possible to summarise the new Partner terms as we want to avoid any misunderstanding between the summary and the Partner Terms

Clear as mud.

There is a lot more to consider here so watch this space for greater detail today and tomorrow as we try to decipher some meaning from all this.

Andrea Pezzi and his Uber driver thief

The news of a drunk Tory student blowing £300 on taxi home from the party conference in Manchester to London this week was amusing but behind the story lies a serious and unresolved question of driver privacy. Its a matter that has been raised at the highest level of Uber UK for more than a year and yet problems rumble on. I’m sure driver of this hapless Tory delegate didn’t expect to see his name, picture and performance rating plastered all over the daily papers including the Manchester Evening News as below. Did the Tory rider or any of the other publishers bother to ask his permission?   (I’ve redacted the identity for the purposes of this post but the Manchester Evening News did not.)

Manchester evening news

Too often newsrooms, short of money to generate meaningful content instead trawl twitter and facebook for amusing Uber rider complaints and make a story of them. In the case of the Manchester story it was the hungover Tory that decided to post the driver details which was later picked up and republished by the Manchester Evening News.

Customers, without having a direct telephone line to Uber customer service, frequently turn to social media to make their complaints. The driver carries more the brunt of their anger over missed pick up or no show cancellations. In fact the driver has almost control over the rules and when or how these costs are applied to the customer. This is an entirely automated process under control of Uber alone.

A great number of us have complained about the behaviour of the @UberUKSupport twitter account staff who always fail to correct the mistaken impression that a driver may done something wrong or dishonest. It has been repeatedly pointed out that this opacity seeds distrust between the riding and driving Uber community which can lead to unnecessary confrontations. Unfortunately this message has fell on deaf ears at Uber.

Here is another horrendous example of an abuse of privacy. Its well known to all that Uber has had a massive security breach with account details on sale via the dark web. I’ve had a customer myself who turned out to be using a fraudulent account. There was no way I could or would have known until Uber deducted the fare from my income. I demanded it be restored and it was thankfully. I’ve kept the drivers name as it provides context to the abusive comment the user made when publishing his image on line.


Last year Uber’s regional general manager, Jo Bertram, offered some soothing if vague assurances on the privacy issue in emails passed to me:

…I am very disturbed by these incidents over the last few days. Please note that the rider has now removed the photo in question, and we will consider further action if we see any repeated misused of the service…….we have repeatedly asked Metro to remove the image of the driver or blur this out. We are also looking into any other ways that we can prevent this kind of thing happening in future.

But Uber’s UK Director of Driver Operations Alex Cappy, in the same emails, betrayed a sense that we drivers were going to have to fend for ourselves:

….we have taken action with Metro News and urged them to blur the photo, and continue to follow up on this matter. In addition, we are working with our engineering team in San Francisco to see what other methods we can use to protect a drivers photo. When it comes to Twitter, we have seen that action is taken more swiftly when complaints are raised by the individual impacted, rather than a third party. If you ever see photos posted on Twitter, I would urge you to log the issue with them directly.

Just imagine how tawdry this is going to get if every driver has to patrol the internet to guard his privacy. Should drivers use their own accounts, with an audience of all their nearest and dearest, to defend accusations of misconduct from misdirected and disgruntled riders? As for the engineers in San Francisco, I guess they’ll get back to us some time later maybe never.

But drivers have no power or leverage in this relationship. Uber, on the other hand, controls access to the platform and presides over all refund decisions. Posting driver details in this way is a very clear breach of the terms of service legally agreed between Uber and the rider so why won’t Uber enforce the rules?

Nevertheless I picked up the gauntlet Alex Cappy threw down and tried to reason with just such a passenger who accuses a driver on twitter of theft. I didn’t get very far.

Untitled picture redacted

Untitled picture 3

Untitled picture missing

Untitled picture fina

The fact that this content persists in twitter 11 days after the fact tells me that in all likelihood Uber will have refunded but not privately insisted on a takedown of the photo. We know they have engaged with Pezzi on twitter and email. But Uber have failed make any public defence of the driver nor publicly demanded that the rider remove the content. That, I’m afraid, is simply not a good enough defense of driver, ‘partner’ privacy.

Andrea Pezzi is an extremely well known media figure in Italy who ought to know better the boundaries of what is fair to publish which makes his actions here all the more objectionable. He accuses his driver of stealing to the tune of £5. As CEO of his media company OVO, Pezzi took his company into bankruptcy in 2006 to shelter from €5 million in debt before re-emerging as OVO Italy srl. I trust the bankruptcy courts in Italy have  given him a little more respect and benefit of doubt than he has given this unfortunate driver he has shamed on twitter.

TfL & LPHCA surfing a tide of hate

There is much grist for the mill in TfL’s recent proposals as part of the private hire regulations review. Much of that I’ll leave for another day but there are a few disturbing issues arising that need immediate illumination.

Steve Wright, Chair LPHCA & TfL board member

Steve Wright, Chair LPHCA & TfL board member

The Wright family business and Addison Lee mouthpiece aka LPHCA (Licensed Private Hire Car Association),  submitted some ugly proposals some of which TfL have now included in the draft proposals much to their mutual shame. Take this gem from the LPHCA:

Bank accounts of licensed private hire drivers in London should be located in the United Kingdom. It is submitted that if a booking is for a private hire vehicle in London, through a London private hire operator, for a journey in the United Kingdom then financial payments to that private hire driver should be into a United Kingdom bank account. This ensures traceability of the transactions thereby mitigating potential tax evasion and / or risks of funds supporting foreign terrorist organisations. The LPHCA formally requests that this requirement be added as a condition to private hire operator licenses.

This is nothing more than xenophobic clap trap that has no place in TfL regulations nor is it any business of LPHCA members such as Addison Lee how their workers spend their hard earned income. It is an echo of the ‘dog whistle’ politics of hate Nigel Farage made in his intervention in this debate last month.

Its a fact that immigrants the world over send remittances to support families back home and its been going on for centuries. So, is every Filipino nurse, every Ghanian doctor, every Pakistani engineer, every Polish driver sending money home a suspected tax evader and terrorism sponsor? What evidence does Addison Lee and LPHCA members have to support this risk assessment? Is there are any real evidence or are these ideas driven only on prejudices?  As for tax evasion, I can attest many of us already live in a tax haven because with net incomes well below minimum wage, many of us are not anywhere near busting the taxable income threshold. Our incomes are taxable here in the UK where earned and will always be. It is entirely irrelevant where payment is deposited even if drivers choose foreign bank accounts just so as to reduce exchange and transfer costs.

The hypocrisy of Addison Lee, a Carlyle Group holding, standing behind the LPHCA on restricting driver payments abroad is staggering. Last year the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists named the Carlyle Group as one of a group of large corporations taking advantage of secret deals with Luxembourg to shelter from tax in that jurisdiction. (I guess the subtle message to pleb drivers is ‘leave the off shoring to us big boys’.) If Addison Lee is to support the LPHCA on this as a matter of principle perhaps it might put its own house in order before bringing unwarranted regulatory scrutiny to their own zero hours drivers.

Yet despite the apparent threat we pose to Treasury coffers and to national security LPHCA members are oddly attached to us. So much so, in fact, they want to have the regulator mandate that we are only allowed to work for them one operator at a time only.

A new condition be added to private hire drivers’ licences requiring their formal registration and attachment to a single private hire operator (“one driver, one operator”) at any one time. Recent events have shown private hire drivers to be working for multiple private hire operators. This has resulted in a loss of reasonable control over some private hire drivers who are working an unsafe number of hours and whose geographical movements are simply unknown. This leads to various concerns (including amongst others) public safety. The LPHCA submits private hire drivers should be required to obtain formal written permission from a sole private hire operator, at point of licensing, from whom they will receive bookings.

Yes, LPHCA members want to have ‘control’ over us despite the fact they do not want to offer us the security of full employment tenure with benefits or observe our workers rights. It is simply unacceptable that the operators would look to restrict the labour market while offering such poor pay and benefits in return. And why on earth do LPHCA members want to monitor my ‘geographical movements’?  What are the ‘various concerns’ unnamed that makes LPHCA members so fearful of their workers? I have to agree that excess hours is a risk but perhaps a more reasonable, market based solution is in order. Here’s a market innovating idea – how about competing for driver labour with better payment, benefits and conditions? Or if Addison Lee and the rest of the LPHCA member base really want to make sure their drivers are paying tax, how about employing them directly and withholding the tax for PAYE? No? I didn’t think so.

Alas these operators seek to rely on TfL as regulator to fix the market with a measure that amounts to something approaching the prevailing modern slavery definitions of forced labour. I exaggerate not. It wants flexible employment terms for itself but to fix the options for us.

Even more shocking is that these twisted ideas from LPHCA have made it into the final TfL draft regulations consultation document.

Drivers to only work for one operator at a time

A number of consultees suggested that PHV drivers should be restricted to working for only a single licensed operator at one time. This proposal would reduce the risk of drivers working excessive hours for a number of different operators. It also will assist enforcement and compliance activity because there would be more certainty as to whom a driver is undertaking bookings for at any particular time. There will be no restriction on the number of times that a driver changes the operator they are working for.

Proposal We proposed to make it a requirement that a PHV driver must be registered to a licensed operator and may only be registered to a single operator at any time.

Yet, while the LPHCA seeks regulatory force to restrict employment options, when it comes to investment in this captive block of human capital all bets are off. Addison Lee advised TfL that ‘the market should determine the appropriate training’. This tells you all you need to know of the contempt LPHCA members hold for the people who literally drive their business. Uber is not an LPHCA member and while they behave absolutely ruthlessly when it comes to earning a shilling, I’ve never heard of drivers being treated with the hatefulness exhibited in these submissions.

But the fun doesn’t stop here. Beyond the LPHCA other consultees have managed to plant even more scrutiny on top of private hire drivers. According to the TfL draft regulations consultation:

Driver and Operator licence applicants to provide National Insurance numbers and share with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

A number of consultees suggested that applicants for a PHV driver or operators licence should be required to provide their National Insurance number as part of their application. Operators are already required under regulation 13 of the Operator Regulations to record the National Insurance number of any driver carrying out bookings for them. Whilst a National Insurance number is not proof of identity, it does provide an additional safeguard to other identity checks. Furthermore, the information could be of use to the DWP to assist any relevant investigations.

Proposal We propose an application requirement to provide a National Insurance number for private hire driver and operator licences (where the operator is an individual).

So there you have it – not only are private hire drivers geograhically shady, in need of control, tax cheats and terrorism sponsors, it turns out TfL believes we are likely benefit cheats as well.

The UK already has a tough anti terrorism, tax evasion, welfare fraud and money laundering regulatory framework. There is no need for TfL’s intervention here and if chooses to do so then we must demand the same measures for taxi drivers

I realize this blog post is somewhat more reactionary than usual but I was genuinely shocked upon reading the LPHCA and TfL documents. The hateful way 87,000 innocent people are regarded by their regulator is beyond comprehension. However, it does go some way towards understanding the mindset that brings us Operation Neon and a senior TfL board members who see us only as ‘potential sex attackers’. How any of the measures discussed here will help save the taxi trade  or keep London moving is beyond me. Frankly, we have in the midst of our great city an out of control regulator and operators who are determined to act with impunity to trample over the most basic rights of workers. Private hire drivers are in urgent need of organisation and representation to turn back this tide of hate.