Tag Archives: Jo Bertram

Uber duff data claims no decline in 2015 driver earnings despite flooding the market

I’ve spoken to quite a few journalists covering Uber over the past few months and almost all have failed to properly investigate the scandalous truth of driver earnings at Uber. For example, Gareth Mead, Uber’s spin meister, got away with telling the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme that drivers working 7 or 8 hours a day take home £48,000 to £49,000 per annum. Assuming drivers worked a 40 hour week for 52 weeks a year (no holidays), they would need to be grossing between £31 and £32 per hour to achieve what Mead claims. Yet, Uber says its ‘Top Drivers’ gross earnings have remained relatively flat throughout 2015 at around £21 per hour.

In November, Jo Bertram and her new side kick Tom Elvidge said drivers took home between £15 and £16 after commission but tried to muddy the waters by saying driver operating costs bases varied greatly which meant our net figures could be skewed if we didn’t control costs. Of course that is a nonsense. I broke down the net numbers previously to prove, no matter how you cut the data, drivers end up well below minimum wage as a best case scenario.

But let’s focus only on the gross numbers for this post. I went back through weekly earnings to plot my gross numbers versus Uber’s declaration for ‘Top Drivers’. Uber is very careful to hide all empirical definition of what exactly a ‘Top Driver’ is. I have to assume it’s a higher stratum, greater than the average and that the data set is constant – but who knows? It is and says whatever Uber wants it to.

Still, I think comparing my own earnings to the mythical ‘Top Drivers‘ tells a useful story. You can see my earnings per hour lose pace against the top drivers all year before recovering somewhat for the busy December period. The ‘Top Drivers’ remain remarkably constant in working about 45 hours a week all year and earning £21 per hour at the start and the end of the year. This is remarkable consistency in a market that TfL has licensed an additional 12,000 drivers for in 2015 and Uber has swelled its ranks by as much as 10,000 drivers or 65% growth.

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Sadly, my earnings tell another story. I’m definitely a more competent and professional driver a year later. My satisfaction rating has remained constant throughout. My hours on the road have increased dramatically. But I still haven’t stopped the earnings slide.

I know better. Uber’s numbers are duff and cannot be trusted any more than Gareth Mead’s lies to the nation on the BBC Today Programme. It’s nothing more than a smoke screen to deny their sweatshop like engagement of drivers. But it’s a cruel trick to play on drivers: to try to pretend that the slide in earnings they see each week must be somehow their own fault because, after all, Uber’s ‘Top Drivers’ are still making it.

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,

Andrea Pezzi and his Uber driver thief

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

Manchester evening news

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

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

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

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

Shadi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Uber price gouge during the London tube strike?

Wednesday night and all day Thursday was crazy for us London Uber drivers and even more so for commuters. Tube strikes on one line or another are fairly frequent but this is the first time I’ve seen the whole system be taken down in a strike. The price up lift of 2.9x was a welcome boost to earnings but the gridlock in London made it difficult to turn over the work at pace. One journey from Picadilly to Old Street took nearly 90 minutes and cost my poor passenger £50. Ouch!

Admittedly, most passengers took the surge pricing in their stride and mostly seemed philosophical about it. Maybe the ones who were truly indignant refused to book and those who couldn’t afford it walked home. Spare a thought for London’s key workers on modest wages forced to live far out in the suburbs due to high housing costs.

As I sat in the traffic I had time to think about the system. Was I instrumental in providing an essential service efficiently rationed to the highest bidder according to economic laws? Or was I part of an opportunistic scam to unethically price gouge Londoners in their hour of greatest need?

The Telegraph was perhaps alone in making the case in the media that Uber was right to triple its fares during London’s tube strike. The reader poll with the article shows 75% of readers agreed with the proposition. The article drew on a poll of so called influential American economists who wholeheartedly agreed with the proposition using surge pricing to allocate transportation services – such as Uber does with its cars – raised consumer welfare through various channels, such as increasing the supply of those services, allocating them to people who desire them the most, and reducing search and queuing costs.

But the economists did have some important caveats to their opinions. One pointed out that consumer welfare and market efficiency are not the same thing. Another agreed with the proviso that there are no major externalities. (Many might argue that the strike and associated grid lock was indeed a major externality.) Another agreed provided there was true competition in the market place. Uber’s UK MD, Jo Bertram, provided an interesting analysis of competitor performance during the strike relative to Uber’s.  Yet another economist ceded the point but pointed out that efficiency was just one outcome and anti gouging laws protected people from market efficiencies that have anti social effects. For me, the real insight came from one economist who agreed with the proposition provided the surge really did incentify additional supply into the market otherwise it would be a straight transfer to Uber.

In comparison, The Telegraph’s argument is facile. Peter Spence argues that 2.9x prices helps Uber to manage digital queues that would become over whelmed by rampant demand. I could see this might be the case if a local minicab office despatcher suddenly had to take 50,000 calls but Uber’s e-hailing system is completely automated and designed to work at huge scale. On the other hand Spence and Jo Bertram argue that surge prices brings more capacity into the market. In fact Uber claims there were twice as many drivers on the road in London on Thursday morning than normal.

But is the surge a force for perfect market efficiency? In the wake of a major snow storm in New York that saw Uber surge to 8.25x the New York Times hit the nail on the head.

But there is no way for customers to gauge supply and demand for themselves beyond looking at the dynamic-pricing multiple. And dynamic pricing is still not the same thing as true market pricing — like an auction system in which riders and drivers bid for one another’s services. Its opacity goes a long way to explaining the frustration it has generated

Back to the original question – it may or not be fair but is it gouging? According to wikipedia, most US anti gouging laws contain a three part test:

  • is there a public emergency?
  • is it a necessary good or service?
  • has the pricing exceeded legally set ceilings?

To answer the question one has to ask if the strike created a public emergency in the transportation system, if transportation should be deemed an essential service and if there are price ceilings or norms beyond which Uber prices should not be allowed to escalate. certainly its something that Transport for London and the Mayor of London should be considering closely.

Personally, I’d much prefer a higher average fare than fluctuating, dymanic prices. The base rate is too low for the market as is clearly evidenced in Jo Bertram’s article. Surge pricing does lead to customer dissatisfaction – I know because my driver ratings fall during surge periods. But the opacity of the system is a real problem. I’m not convinced the process isn’t being gamed cleverly. During this week I’ve noticed periods of no availability at Wimbledon and yet prices stayed static. At other times, I’ve seen surges come and go in waves that would have meant it unfeasible for meaningful movement of supply. London’s airports seem always to be exempt from surge prices for some reason. Like many others when I know the surge is coming and going I will just log out and wait for the surge to come back which it inevitably does. Consumers are doing the same dance from their side. Is it market efficient welfare inducing beahviour. I’m not so sure.