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’
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.
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.