Tag Archives: GMB

Why we protest

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Last Thursday November 12th saw Uber drivers take to the streets to protest, for the first time in London, outside Uber’s palatial offices in Aldgate Tower. The public protest has been a long time coming considering we have suffered three price cuts, the imposition of an incomprehensible 22 page contract, a flooding of the market with more drivers than there is work for and now an increase in commission for Uber X drivers. Add to this the standard practice of Uber making unauthorized & unexplained income deductions, an increase in network charges, summary dismissals and complete neglect of drivers assaulted on the job.

The commission increase is an especially cruel blow right now and will cost new drivers an additional £50 – £70 per week. It comes at a time when Uber are continuing to aggressively on board new drivers with referral offers of up to £500 per head. It’s cruel because Uber are continuing to mislead drivers and the general public about how much money can be made in this game. It’s cruel because it lures people into debt to rent and finance vehicles they will struggle greatly to make pay. Its cruel because any driver who enters the Uber world will need to work excessive hours as the only possible way to cover costs and earn an income.

In August this year Uber bowed to the Advertising Standards Authority and withdrew internet advertising giving an overly rosy picture of potential driver earnings. Just last month Uber’s latest in a line of Communications Chiefs told the BBC Today programme that drivers took home £48,000 per annum. Jo Bertram has quoted the same number as £35,000. Last week the Uber spin machine, at full tilt because of the protest said the net income for drivers after commission is £16 per hour and this is, apparently,  something they ‘look at very carefully.’

So where is the crisis? Let me break it down as simply as I can. The following image comes from this week’s weekly driver report from Uber.

Uber income weekly report Nov 9

First thing to note is that even the so called top drivers don’t make £16 per hour net, they barely make just over £15 per hour after commission is deducted from the notional £19 per hour figure. With the commission hike of 5% this figure drops to just over £14 per hour, £2 shy of what Uber says drivers make after commission. And remember, these are just the ‘top drivers’, it doesn’t even represent what average drivers make.

Now let’s take a look at typical operating costs to calculate a net take home figure.

Uber Income

Yes, even Uber’s ‘top drivers’ – using Uber’s own numbers and conservative, verifiable operating costs – cannot reach the minimum wage threshold. It falls short by £1.02 per hour or 15% below minimum wage.

Uber will say that driver operating models vary greatly and it’s up to us to control costs. But that just isn’t the case. The largest typical cost item is car rental and the £270 pcw figure above comes from PCO Rentals, an approved supplier listed in the Uber Marketplace.  £100 per week in fuel is a more than reasonable estimate and the rest of the costs are self explanatory. These are typical costs for thousands of drivers no matter how hard Uber try to spin otherwise.

Also consider that the hours calculated here are just the logged in hours and total on the road hours including positioning, rest breaks, fueling, cleaning etc are likely to be another 30% which further dilutes even these best case figures.

Yet besides the obvious driver financial deprivation, long hours and increasingly congested streets, rather than suspend or slow down on boarding or raise prices – Uber adds to the suffering by making a grab for another 5% commission.

There is much more to say about last Thursday’s events and Uber’s refusal to engage in any meaningful discussion with drivers on pay. I will get to that soon. For now, I just wanted to explain why we drivers, in large numbers, finally took to streets last week. I have a feeling we’ll be back on the streets again very soon.

A statement from Caroline Pidgeon on the Uber driver protest today

A statement from Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrats candidate for the Mayor of London election on the day of the GMB Uber driver protest, November 12, 2015.

I have long been very clear that the London taxi and private hire vehicles can both flourish, if there is fair completion and proper enforcement of those rules.

I also believe the golden thread running through all regulation must be the protection of passengers, especially vulnerable passengers.

Sadly we are a very long way from this situation today.

We have in many respects a triple whammy:  Uber drivers being exploited,  passengers sometimes put at unnecessary risk and London’s roads being clogged up by an unsustainable growth in private hire vehicles.

We need a proper and honest debate about whether time limits between booking and commencement of journey can really  work.   But three things are absolutely clear and where no debate is needed.

Firstly, that there is whole range of sensible steps that can and must be taken to improve the regulation of private hire vehicles such as an issues of insurance and background checks on operators.  These changes should happen as quickly as possible.  It would be totally wrong if the current Mayor took no action before he leaves City Hall.

Secondly TfL still need to go a long way in enforcing even the current rules, especially on touting.

And thirdly, while not being against any form of technology we must never, I repeat never,  allow any company – especially one that avoids paying tax – to feel it alone can set the rulebook.

Caroline Pidgeon

A message from George Galloway

A message of support from George Galloway ahead of the Uber driver protest in London tomorrow.

November 12, 2015

Brothers and Sisters;

Greetings.

I am sorry I cannot be with you in person due to other commitments and ask for your forgiveness that my contribution is limited to this message.

Boris Johnson, David Cameron and the Tories love Uber for all the reasons the union has a problem with the company.

The Tories believe in unregulated throat-cutting cost-cutting capitalism and they don’t much care if the capitalists in question don’t pay their taxes. And if the capitalist in question is a piratical American corporation, well, that’s dreamland for them…

It is I think well known that I am determined to deal with Uber if I am elected Mayor of London next May. They will have to – as a minimum – obey all the rules and comply with all the standards which we have regulated over decades.

But my opposition to Uber of course in no way implies any hostility from me towards Uber drivers. To the contrary. All the reasons which have made me such an opponent of Uber are illustrated by their treatment of their own drivers.

A company which seeks to drive a coach and horses through that which protects everyone else might have been expected to be a poor employer. And as you know better than me, that is certainly what they are.

So, in short, Uber drivers have a friend in me, especially if they are trade unionists as you are. I’m with the workers, always.

If there is anything you want me to do, whether as Mayor or not, your union merely have to ask.

I am at their, and your, service.

Yours fraternally

George Galloway

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.

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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.

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.

Cabbies sleep walk into a bear trap

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

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

UCG campaign

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

LTDA

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

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

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

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

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

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

A complaint to IPCC regarding Operation Neon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, Tfl – just do your job.

Uber’s war in the mind

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

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

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

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

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

celebrating the city and the officials that have helped Uber

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

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

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

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

Still, I was heartened to hear Kalanick say:

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive, Save the Children

Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive, Save the Children

Dear Justin

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

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

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

Uber donation

From Uber weekly update email to drivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Regards