Tag Archives: Addison Lee

I’m worried sick my Uber driving career will land me in jail

Rabbit

Flickr: David Rynde

I’ve become increasingly anxious about the grey area of law in which mini cab drivers are expected to operate and the unwillingness of TfL or the Operator to provide clarity. It’s as if the ambiguity is exploited as yet another method of control over drivers. For example, in rolling out its new 27 page contract Uber steadfastly and repeatedly refused to offer any driver briefing to help us understand its practical meaning hidden within the legalese. Similarly, I’ve had a few issues, which I will expand upon, that I felt threatened the validity of my license but TfL also have stubbornly refused to offer clarity and assurance.  Besides worrying all the time, this unhappy state of affairs leaves drivers like me more vulnerable to regulator and operator abuse.

Here is what worries me right now:

  1. I’m worried that the vigilantism against private hire drivers orchestrated by TfL and the taxi organisations is getting out of hand. TfL are encouraging reports on the street against private hire drivers. The evidence which TfL willingly accepts via its twitter feed is often flimsy or doctored. There is a serious risk driver’s when they receive a letter or phone call from TfL will be intimidated and brow beaten into accepting a fine or caution for a none offence that could end up costing them their job. I worry when or if this happens to me, my side of the story just will not be believed and I will face a penalty. We now even have taxi organisation marshals and mobile groups that have taken it upon themselves to police private hire with the full blessing of the police and TfL. These guys are becoming increasingly confrontational and physical in video recording private hire drivers who have done nothing wrong and putting strong adhesive stickers on their windows which take hours to scrape off.  I know they are just doing it to defend their trade which TfL has threatened by over licensing private hire and allowing Uber exploitation of drivers to enable rock bottom fares. But rather than TfL doing the right thing in capping the trade and insisting on worker rights for drivers in operator licensing conditions TfL is doing the easy thing which is to placate the taxi trade by scapegoating private hire drivers. All of us private hire drivers should worry about a taxi org repeating LTDA’s initiative to launch private prosecutions against private hire drivers in order to force a legal precedent on private hire regulations. Drivers of course are just cannon fodder in this epic battle between the taxi industry and Uber. However, private hire drivers are woefully under represented and do not always have the backing of a strong representative body such as United Private Hire Drivers to hold the line. If I could have a wish come true it would be to see taxi and private hire drivers set aside or even suspend their differences long enough to collectively demand action from TfL to reduce PHV numbers to a sustainable level and insist on non exploitative working conditions for drivers. Private hire drivers should not have to endure the exploitation and taxi drivers should not have to compete with fares propped up by it. TfL, Uber, Addison Lee, Karhoo and the rest are the real enemy of taxi drivers not poor Uber drivers. Focusing energy on us just enables the real theft to carry on elsewhere.
  2.  I’m worried my license and insurance may be seriously compromised by my topography test cheating. I took my topography test at Addison Lee and was handed out the answers to copy into the test answer sheet.  I was shocked when it happened and was afraid if I said anything it could scupper any chance to ever work for one of the major London firms. Later I saw that TfL had closed 17 centres for just this kind of practice and forced 300 drivers to retake their test. I thought it best to turn myself in, throw myself at the mercy of TfL and try to make every effort ensure my license and insurance remained valid. It’s now 8 weeks since I reported the matter to Garrett Emmerson and Leon Daniels. However, neither they nor anyone at TfL can or will confirm if my license is valid or not.  I’m worried sick that if I have an accident or get pulled in for an on street check and this comes out I could be arrested, fined or even jailed for a touting offence. If my insurance was invalidated because of this and I had an accident I could be financially ruined for life. I just cannot understand why TfL won’t tell me. It’s almost as if they just don’t want to know about any potential wrong doing at Addison Lee and that leaves me caught in legal limbo.
  3. I also worry that I’m not legally contracted to drive in London. I have a London driver license and my PHV is licensed in London. I work under contract for Uber BV Netherlands who sub the work from Uber London who have a TfL issued operators license. However, I was always led to believe I can only work for a London Operator. So if I keep taking the work from Amsterdam am I putting myself at risk of a touting offence in London? I’ve asked TfL for help but they just won’t give me any straight answers.
  4. I am deeply worried about getting caught in the Operation Neon dragnet. TfL, in a knee jerk reaction to pressure from the taxi trade, launched a major anti touting initiative. However, despite a huge manpower effort from TfL, Westminster Council and the Met together they have only made 65 reports for touting offences in more than a year and 111 operations. But never mind, Operation Neon has used the time productively to harass private hire drivers with nearly 9,000 orders to move and about 5,000 parking tickets. But TfL created the parking & congestion problems by issuing 105,000 licenses in the first place. TfL readily admit there are too many PHVs, well beyond the point of market saturation and surface capacity. Drivers will now end up being penalized for simply trying to do their jobs in impossible conditions. TfL are under huge pressure from the taxi lobby to find wrong doing even if there is none. This will lead to ever more persecution of the innocent. Why can’t they just stop licensing? Surely, even an emergency suspension on grounds of public safety would now be reasonable.
  5. I maybe operating illegally without an Operators license. Last October Uber BV Netherlands introduced a new driver contract. The terms of the contract to me look like I am defacto taking on the role of a licensed operator except I don’t have an Operators license. I asked Uber to help me understand the contract but they refused saying I needed to go get my own professional opinion of their contract. I asked TfL to review and tell me if in agreeing to it I could violate my licensing terms. They looked into it but then wouldn’t give me any advice either way. Again, we drivers must push on in legal limbo, until that is TfL decides we are breaking the law after all and then throws the book together with the kitchen sink at us. Always better to make an example of a driver rather than upset fat cat Operator$.

Uber wants me to lobby TfL for …… Uber

Oh the irony. Uber, the very company that refuses to enter into any consultation with its drivers, is asking us drivers to enter the TfL consultation process on its behalf. I say ‘on its behalf’ because, like anything with Uber, the input is selective, in its own interests only and dressed up as if its for the driver’s benefit. Its a bit like the tired argument used every time Uber wants to drop prices to grab more market share and drive their competitors out of business – ‘drivers win because now we will be more productive and earn more per hour’. See how this works?

Last night Uber sent me a text telling me there were only 2 days left to respond to the TfL consultation. When I clicked the link – hey presto – it opened my email and generated text to send directly to TfL with Uber’s preferred reply. All I had to do was hit send – no thinking required, just the way Uber likes it. It even autogenerated a bcc to Uber itself so that big brother at Aldgate Tower can monitor which drivers are the true believers and who are just not to be trusted.

Unfortunately, Uber forgot to add some of the issues I am interested in raising with TfL in the consultation. Here are a few of the key points of difference for me:

  • Uber, you need to start protecting driver privacy if TfL is going to mandate you send my picture electronically with every booking confirmation. Jo Bertram’s side kick Tom Elvidge told me at the GMB demo last month that Uber didn’t have the resources neceessary to enforce user ToS to make users  take down social media postings of driver identification. Sometimes the richest really are the poorest.
  • Uber forgot to tell us to lobby TfL to review and approve business model changes such as the recent Uber driver contract and UberPool before launch. Yeah, let’s just keep shtum on that one, shall we.
  • Neither did Uber tell me to say anything about app based security and biometric recognition that TfL is so keen on. My position is pretty clear about this – as long as Uber customer credit card details continue to leak all over the web I’m less than keen to hand over my biometric data.
  • Uber didn’t give any advice about what to say about having a landline. I thought about it myself and concluded its pretty damn important I can actually get someone from the operator side on the phone in an emergency situation – just like the time I was assaulted in March. Uber finally gave the police the details they asked for on the night – but just 10 weeks after the fact.
  • The bit about showing vehicles on the app was interesting. Uber suggested it would be pretty luddite behaviour to hide this. I think the sensible compromise is that the operator can show the vehicle enroute once booked. Anyway, its already pretty embarrassing to see the thousands and thousands of idle Uber cars displayed all over London. Someone has to pay to keep all that metal hanging around and it sure isn’t Uber.
  • Uber could have kicked in to speak up against some of the more illiberal aspects of the proposed regulations effecting drivers  like TfL wanting to send our details to DWP and TfL’s idea about monitoring our ‘behavioural indiscretions’. But none of that adds to Uber’s bottom line so zip on that one.
  • Uber wants me to speak up about the proposal that operators must be able to take a booking 7 days in advance. This one is really odd. Uber wants me to be against this cos there are ‘plenty of other operators’ for this. Huh? I can’t agree on this one. I’m inclined to believe the customer is always right and never turn away business. If the customer wants to book in advance we should let them. That’s more work for me, not less as Uber says it will be, if they have to take advance bookings.

One thing we did agree on – probably for different reasons though – is that I should be allowed to work for as many or as few operators as I like. None of these sweat shop London operators are offering anything remotely approaching a decent income let alone contractual security so I’d like to keep my options wide open. Thanks all the same though TfL (and Addison Lee) for the thought.

It’s a shame Uber missed the opportunity to represent their drivers better here and speak out against TfL’s discriminatory impulse. But at Uber, only Uber comes first.

If you’re struggling with insomnia, what follows is the perky little email Uber auto generated for me to send to TfL. I sent it to the delete bin instead.

Dear Transport for London,

Please accept this email as a formal response to the Private Hire Regulations Review. As a licensed private hire driver in London, I feel strongly about some of these proposals and would like to ensure my voice is heard.

New technology, mobile phones and apps have made my life better.  They’ve made it easier for me to get work and make more money.  And I know that my customers feel safer too.

With regard to the proposals in the Private Hire Regulations Review:

2. Operators must provide booking confirmation details to the passenger at least five minutes prior to the journey commencing
I do not agree with this proposal. Making people wait five-minutes for their car even when it might be round the corner would make it harder for me to make a decent living.  I also worry that my customers less safe as they may have to needlessly wait around on the street late at night.

5. Operators must offer a facility to pre-book up to seven days in advance
I do not agree with this proposal.  Drivers and customers should be able to choose how they want to book a car. There are plenty of other operators where I can choose to work with journeys booked seven days in advance.  But it would mean that I do fewer journeys, make less money and can’t choose my own hours.

8.Operators must not show vehicles being available for immediate hire, either visibly or virtually via an app
I do not agree with this proposal. Customers frequently say that they love the ability to see cars live in their smartphone – knowing when their car will arrive in real-time and meeting drivers at the right time.  Having this information means I spend less time looking for passengers and more time making a living.

15. Drivers to work for one operator at a time
I do not agree with this proposal. It is important to me, and drivers, that we have the freedom to work for who we want when we want and can switch easily between operators. This makes sure that operators have to compete with each other to give us – as well as customers – the best deal.

Regards,

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.

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.

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Credit: Flickr, Mark Seton

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.

The topographical test

Addison Lee, William Road NW1

In order to qualify for a TfL Private Hire drivers license everyone must pass the the topographical skills assessment. In the official TfL Annex A specifications are laid out in a 14 page documents and quaintly enough it all hinges upon being able to find your way around a London AZ. Remember those?

I was actually a bit nervous about it because I wasn’t sure my ego could take a fail or even a poor score. I needn’t have worried. I took my test at Addison Lee on a Friday afternoon and I’m pretty sure I was in and out in 15 minutes, certificate in hand.

There were three sets of questions to answer.  Module one involved being able to find a street in a map by its grid reference. For example, look up Chandos Street in the index and write down its page number and grid reference.

Module two was the inverse of the first. We were shown London Bridge on a map and we were then asked to write down page number and grid reference. Easy peesy: P42 C6.

Finally, for module three we were test on our understanding of the compass. The question:

Him: ‘If you start your journey in Stratford and end in Richmond what direction are you travelling?’

Me: ‘South West?’

Him: ‘Correct!’

Having answered one question from each of three modules correctly our assessor figured we were more than up to it so he helpfully distributed a copy of the correct answers for all the questions for each module.

Him: ‘Now lads please make sure you copy these over exactly as in the original or there’ll be hell to pay in the front office’.

The transposition took the bulk of the time.  After that it was time to enter our details into the system, fork over £25 and then our certificates appeared on the printer in the same room.

It was the quickest academic achievement I have ever notched up even if I did feel a little dirty what with the copying and all. Oh, and I’ve never opened an AZ since. It’s all about the Sat Nav anyway.