Tag Archives: Garrett Emmerson

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


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$.

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.