Tag Archives: Private Hire

My personal submission to TfL private hire consultation

Everyone has at least one if not numerous opinions about how TfL should develop the private hire regulatory problems. Actually it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the answer to the problem is to impose a cap to stop the city congesting itself to a coronary and to protect worker rights so private hire drivers don’t end up suffering the same.

Here is what I will be submitting personally to TfL before consultation closes tomorrow. UPHD will be sending in its own submission also on behalf of the member base. Register for free membership at UPHD to see a copy of its submission.

Do you agree with my answers? Feel free to use an adapt it at will to submit your own feedback to TfL.  You can find the consultation document including the questions asked which I respond to below at this link.

Question 1
Do you agree with the above proposal? If you don’t agree, please explain why.

Answer:
No I do not agree to this. I already wear a TfL picture ID which is sufficient and already a much higher standard than the taxi trade. I am not convinced that my personal details will not be misused or leaked on to the internet

Question 2
Do you agree with our proposal for a time delay between journey booking and commencement? If you don’t agree, please explain why.

No I do not agree. An imposed waiting time will only lead to more congestion and income loss for drivers and pose a safety threat for passengers.

Question 3
Do you think that a different time interval to five minutes is appropriate? If you do, please say what you consider an appropriate time interval to be, and why.

There should be no time delay imposed.

Question 4
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please explain why.

Yes, I agree with this proposal.

Question 5
What are your views on ensuring that app based platforms are secure and do not allow passenger or driver fraud?

I don’t have a view on how operators manage passenger fraud. I believe drivers wearing a picture ID at all times provides sufficient security. I don’t believe the problem is app specific. For example a taxi driver can easily pass his badge and cab to an unlicensed driver.

Question 6
Do you believe that there is sufficient technology available to achieve this and if so what technology do you believe we should consider?

I don’t believe the technology exists to properly secure driver details. At the moment driver details are being cut and pasted from the app to social media channels. The best security is not to collect data that is not needed.

Question 7
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes.

Question 8
Do you consider a period other than seven days to be appropriate? If you do, please say why.

The same advance booking period as airlines allow.

Question 9
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

No. Large trade events and concerts cannot be serviced adequately and safely without on site service. If TfL bans this it will only encourage touting.

Question 10
How would you propose that venues and temporary events ensure safe and adequate transportation options for those attending such events?

On site operator could be asked to register and submit driver and phv details in advance.

Question 11
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes but there must also be a manned support line for operators to support drivers 24×7.

Question 12
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes I agree.

Question 13
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why not.

No I don’t agree. I have no objection with the operator supplying my details to TfL but I do object to your monitoring of ‘behavioural indiscretions’. TfL must stick to writing and enforcing regulations only. I would like TfL to get professional, independent advice on equalities.

Question 14
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

I do not agree. It’s impossible to fix a time and distance fare in advance. To mandate this will result in either the passenger being overcharged or the driver being underpaid.

Question 15
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes I agree. I also believe I must be told of the destination at the time of booking confirmation so that I can prepare for the journey and also have the option to decline or discuss with the operator if I feel I am unable to complete the journey.

Question 16
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes, I agree to this proposal.

Question 17
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

No I don’t agree. I don’t see why an operator cannot organise and market their business anyway they chose.

Question 18
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

I don’t agree.

Question 19
What standard do you think it would be appropriate for applicants to demonstrate?

I suggest TfL gets professional, external equalities advice on this question.

Question 20
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

I completely disagree with this proposal. It would directly reduce and harm my employment prospects. I should be allowed to work for as many operators as I chose. Not all operators can offer me enough work to provide a full time income.

Question 21
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

I completely disagree with this proposal and I resent the implication that I or my colleagues are benefit cheats. TfL should stick to regulating the taxi and private hire trade where it already has more than enough to do.

Question 22
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes I agree.

Question 23
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes I agree.

Question 24
Do you agree with this proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

I disagree.

Question 25
Do you agree with our proposal? If not, please say why.

Yes I agree

Question 26
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes, I agree to this proposal.

Question 27
If you agree, should the driver be required to display the insurance in the vehicle?
If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes but only via a windscreen sticker but not inside the car.

Question 28
Do you agree that Hire and Reward fleet insurance put in place by operators is necessary in addition to, or instead of, individual driver insurance cover? If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes I agree that operators should carry fleet insurance in addition to but not instead of driver HR insurance.

Question 29
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

Yes but TfL should bring detailed proposals back for further consultation.

Question 30
Do you support the above proposal? If not, why not?

Yes I support the proposal. Ride sharing should not be allowed. Based on my experience I believe it is unsafe for me as a driver and for the passenger.

Question 31
Do you agree with our proposal? If you don’t agree, please say why.

No I do not agree. I see no reason for any further restrictions.

Additional measures:

I agree with the additional you propose and in addition I think the following are essential also:
• Safety and security training for drivers to be provided by operators.
• TfL should provide whistle blower protection and an anonymous complaints lines for drivers and operators to report concerns to TfL.
• Driver deposits need to be protected by a TfL approved scheme to stop operator abuse.
• TfL should carry out credit checks on operators to ensure they are fir for business.
• TfL should ensure that operators provide suitable rest, kitchen and toilet facilities 24×7.
• TfL must provide suitable rest areas throughout London.
• All operators must provide a 24 hour, live, manned support line for driver operations.

TfL’s behavioural indiscretions

Last week I joined UPHD in their demonstration against TfL at Windsor house. Its great to hear private hire drivers raise their voices but it will be an uphill battle to get TfL to see reason and and practice fairness.

We raised three main issues:

  • End UberPool  – TfL have effectively pre empted the regulatory review which sets out to deal with licensing for such services. They ignored universal advice it received in the first wave of the private hire regulatory review consultation where respondents expressed serious concerns about safety. TfL have said they have sought and received assurances on this from Uber but when pressed they are so far refusing to publish this.
  • Cap private hire licensing – even TfL recognises that there are far too many private hire drivers in London which is leading to congestion and unsafe working hours. TfL plays the shill game in saying it is lobbying for primary legislation but the boss is Boris Johnson MP and would be Tory leader. So what exactly are the results of all TfL’s supposed lobbying. Drivers are growing tired of this plausible deniability in a supposed local versus central government spat. Time to sort it out.
  • An end to TfL discrimination. Private hire drivers suffer much populist abuse, most of it unfair and unwarranted. However, when such rhetoric starts to be reflected in proposed regulation we have to demand an Equalities Impact Asssessment.  Again, TfL says it is doing this but will not tell us what external review has been carried out, when the work will be completed and when the review will be published. That isn’t good enough.

Many will not yet accept TfL have a problem on this last score  – especially if you haven’t actually been on the receiving end of discrimination. But here is a small example from the current private hire regulatory proposals. Here TfL is proposing that Operators routinely share driver details with the regulator. Nothing wring with that but there is something desperately wrong with TfL’s justification for the regulation change:

It also means we can better monitor whether drivers connected to a particular operator
are consistently committing offences or other behavioural indiscretions. This will
enhance enforcement and compliance activity.

Let’s be clear, TfL’s job is to set and enforce regulation and to do so fairly and in the public interest. It is far beyond TfL’s role to imagine and deal with non existent ‘behavioural indiscretions’.

The characterisation and language used here by TfL in this just one example is totally unacceptable and must be rejected out right by drivers. TfL must set and enforce the law. That is all.

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.

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

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.

14613868624_55f0fcbcd5_o

Credit: Flickr, Mark Seton

Why my below minimum wage Uber London income hurts everyone

A few weeks ago my income accounts were the subject of a GMB press release. It was a weird mix of empowerment and humiliation to have such personal data released into the public domain. Earning just £5.03 per hour over a month on an average 53 hour week is, frankly, embarrassing. But it’s heartening to feel the support of GMB and political leaders like Sadiq Khan, David Lammy, Diane Abbott and even Zac Goldsmith now rallying to the cause of bringing Uber to Employment Tribunal to assert worker rights currently denied. This is a legal action reluctantly brought myself and a growing number of Uber drivers who feel we have simply run out of options.

But is this just the problem of a minority? I get the impression that we private hire drivers like to keep a brave face on things and make out that things are better than they really are. I know I’m not the only one financially hurting from the Uber experience. We have to face the fact that TfL are saturating the market with a 1,000 new private hire licensed on the road each month, month after month. These drivers are lured in on the promise from Uber that you can make £4,000 per month.

uber offer

The cold forces of economics suggest things can’t end well for private hire drivers. Uber and it’s customers enjoy all the positive benefits of network effects created by drivers. The drivers, however, must bear the cost of economic inefficiency and the negative network effects. Put simply, Uber needs a car on every corner to drive down response times and that is achieved through an excess of drivers hanging around waiting for a job. With 15,000 already on the road, the company has an objective of boosting that number to 45,000 in London by next spring. And as quick as TfL take our money for license fees they unleash Operation Neon exclusively against Private Hire drivers struggling to operate in ever crowded streets. It’s quite simply Kafkaesque regulatory behaviour.

At the macro level there are other costs which most be borne externally. Londoner’s are beginning to notice additional congestion caused by increasing numbers of private hire cars which in turn contributes to reduced air quality and poor traffic flow.

TfL’s public transport network is starved of incremental traffic as passengers are lured off busses and trains by below cost Uber fares. TfL still has to support the cost of it’s network so lost custom can only mean higher fares for Londoners still. This leads to death spiral of under investment driving even more passengers into the Uber embrace  Make no mistake, Uber does indeed see itself not only in competition with taxis but also with the entire public transportation system. Says Travis Kalanick:

Uber’s mission is to go to every major city in the world and roll out an efficient, convenient, elegant transportation system. I like to think Uber is creating a new way of getting around cities.

Travis Kalanick on public transportation. Credit: Melody McCloskey, FLICKR

The irony of such lofty claims of reinventing the wheel is rather brilliantly satirized by Anil Dash in his piece Uber for Uber. I commend it to every public transport policy maker in London and especially to Boris Johnson who thinks anyone not drinking the Uber Kool Aid by now is a luddite.

And there are other losers. With many drivers earning so little, they have to rely on working tax credits to supplement their income to keep the family above water. This serves as an effective public subsidy to a company that genuflects at the altar of the free market. VAT receipts are enjoyed by citizens of the Netherlands for every trip made in London since all transactions are recorded and processed there.

There is also a wider point of principle at play here. No doubt other large employers are watching the Uber revolution with interest. If Uber is allowed to erode worker rights to the extent they have done in London and get away with it, you can be sure many, many old school employers will be lining up to attempt to do the same. Nurses, teachers, cleaners, white collar office workers, hotel workers and doctors will overnight become self employed micro entrepreneurs. They too will enjoy the flexibility of an endless work day and the excitement of sharing all the business risk but little in the way of reward. This casualization of employment cannot be just waved through without our consensus and consent.

And then we come to the black cab trade. They’ve never welcomed private hire competition no matter what form it takes. I’m not going to comment here on the ply for hire definition debate. But suffice to say, when Uber is enabled to offer below cost fares – supported by below minimum wage payments, working tax credits and beneficial overseas VAT regimes – we must recognise London’s Cabbies are fighting market forces on a far from level playing field.

Finally a note about safety. With ever declining incomes, drivers have little choice but to put in excess hours to cover their costs. Uber bears no responsibility for the inevitable risk of fatigue and TfL does not enforce any standards on working hours. I genuinely fear for the safety of Londoners getting into an Uber car, or being in vicinity of one, when the driver has worked 20 hours straight.

For these reasons the GMB legal challenge for workers rights is crucial. When successful, Uber will be forced to acknowledge a floor in the market at minimum wage below which no driver can fall. Uber will also be obliged to observe its responsibility for operational safety. Despite what you may hear to the contrary, neither of these will destroy the Uber model or represent an attack on innovation and new ways of working. Indeed, private hire drivers, myself included, love the flexibility of the Uber business model. Rather, this claim is just an old fashioned matter of decency and Uber doing the right thing for the sake of all Londoners.

Is Operation Neon a violation of civil liberties?

Since May this year TfL with the Metropolitan Police have been cracking down on an alleged problem of ‘touting’ by private hire operators on the streets of London. Tfl say they have received ‘positive feedback’ from the taxi trade and Neon will continue indefinitely for as long as TfL and the taxi trade feel it is necessary. In other words, forever. When would a competitor ever agree that the regulator stop harassing another competitor?

Yet with all the public resources thrown into Operation Neon, TfL only found 25 suspected touting offenders between May 8 and August 15 this year. Of this it’s not clear how many of these touts were actual licensed private hire drivers and how many were just private individuals having a go. TfL were asked for this detail but refused to provide it.

But compare this touting figure to 1380 stopped for not wearing their badge and 2446 ordered to move on. These offences are incorrectly labelled as ‘touting’ by TfL and they have been asked to stop calling them such but refuse to do so.

Tfl op Neon

 

I have repeatedly asked TfL to provide Taxi compliance stats for the same period but they also refuse to provide this detail as well as any info on resources dedicated to compliance for each of the taxi and private hire segments.

The data that TfL has provided proves beyond doubt that the crack down on private hire ‘touting’ is far from risk or evidence based. Its clear that TfL has bowed to political pressure from the well organised and funded taxi trade to target the poorer, unorganised private hire trade. The insistent false referencing to non existent ‘touting’ is damaging to our reputation and our business. Moreover, it is entirely inappropriate for TfL as regulator to allow one segment of the trade it regulates (taxis) to have any role in directing compliance action against a competing segment also regulated by TfL (private hire). There is a huge conflict of interest.

And yet the taxi trade has its own compliance problems too which TfL seems to want to overlook. Last week, I did a short survey of my own and found 5 taxis without road tax and one without insurance all operating on the streets of London. The uninsured taxi even displayed proudly the LTDA badge in the windscreen, one of the organisations directing Operation Neon against private hire. Yet, neither TfL nor the LTDA showed any appetite for investigating this matter. The evidence is now in the custody of the GMB.

Operation Neon is nothing short of an attack on civil liberties by the regulator against a relatively underprivileged and politically disenfranchised group. Many of us fail to even earn the minimum wage especially if working for Uber. In the coming days and months we must see the private hire trade, probably best represented by the GMB,  push back hard on the patent injustice of Operation Neon. It would be wonderful if Liberty might look into this situation also.

Screenshot_Burlison

Perhaps the situation is best expressed by Sgt Alex Burlison of the Metropolitan police using that age old cliche justification for ominous state over reach:

if you’re operating legally then nothing to worry about.

If only.

My assault proves Uber doesn’t care about drivers

The Incident

Some time ago I picked up three young, professional women in East London for a short trip over to Shoreditch. (I’m deliberately being vague on locations in order to protect my privacy and that of the suspects).  The woman who booked the ride sat up front and appeared to be sober – I normally won’t accept riders who are out of control drunk due to all the risks that entails. She told me over the course of the journey that she worked for a household name brand American media company serving the youth market with children’s and young adult programming including music videos. She was bringing two clients out for the evening and I quickly realised the two clients now in the back seat were worse for the wear. One proceeded to plant her feet on my headrest and the other demanded access to an auxiliary cable to stream their own music and when I said I didn’t have that service available she demanded a discount.

We got underway and things were fine until we reached a major junction in East London. Stopped at a red light on the inside lane of three lanes of traffic on a 6 lane road at one of London’s most dangerous junctions, one of the backseat passengers opened the door to vomit onto the street. She lay horizontal with her head out the open door as traffic began to move away at speed from the now green light.

After she gathered herself together, I figured it was time to terminate the ride. Why? Well besides the risk of the lady being decapitated or run over after falling out of the car there was a risk of her being sick in the car, which, asides from cleaning effort would end my night and result in unrecoverable lost earnings. And there are other risks – perhaps she had also taken drugs and could lose consciousness . I mean, who knows? It’s just not worth the risk.

So I performed a U turn and pulled over on the other side of the street by the pavement. As I was doing so, the lead rider up front asked me where the water bottles are. She explained that most Uber drivers provided free bottles of water and this would surely now come in handy for her friend to rinse her mouth out with after vomiting. Afterwards I did the maths – the fare to that point was c. £7.50. Three 750 ml bottles of Evian at Tesco would cost me £2.50, Uber commission would be £1.50. This would net me £3.50 in earnings for 30 minutes work but before fuel, insurance, wear and tear, licensing costs etc. – that works out well below the national minimum wage of £6.50 and the London living wage of £9.15 per hour after operating costs are deducted.

I terminated the ride and pointed them to a shop open along the street where they could buy water. I politely explained that I believed the sick friend was not fit for travel and perhaps they might take a few minutes to get a cup of coffee, drink water and take a walk. However, all three were reluctant to leave and did not do so before all three repeatedly called me a ‘dick’ and were generally abusive.  After they left, I moved the car a short way up the street and immediately made my report on the trip through the App to Uber. I really wasn’t confident Uber would accept my version of events when the inevitable rider complaint arrived so I was determined to stay ahead of the complaint curve.

On the other side of the street I noticed another Uber driver pulling up to take the tree ladies onward. I felt it was only right to warn him – certainly Uber is not going to do anything to share information on risky passenger situations from the wealth of data analytics available at their finger tips, so we drivers need to look out for each other.  The lead passenger arrived soon after me and discovered I had warned my cooleague about their behaviour and my experience. I left and crossed the 6 lanes of traffic again back to my car. She followed me and repeatedly called me a ‘********* C**t’ (enter the ethnicity of choice) and repeatedly shoved me backwards using her hands. She attempted to apologise for and explain her need to use the racist epithet: ‘..you’re a ********* C**t and I never say that’. It was cold comfort that my temerity to cancel the journey and warn a colleague had incited this otherwise educated, respectable woman to lash out physically and use racist language. It was an almost laughable case of blame the victim for the necessary victimization. You made me do it.

Eventually she went back to the driver at the other side of the street who was still waiting and considering his options. The two back seat ladies had fallen on the pavement and were crumpled in a heap. Eventually they staggered to their feet, crossed three lanes to the middle island and crumpled in a heap there. I took the opportunity to take one picture of them as proof to Uber that they were totally unfit for travel. At this point the trio turned on me and screeched out repeatedly that I was a pervert. The public on the street began to take notice and one or two did ask what was going to on check if things were OK. At around this point a rather large young man jumped out of his car and came at me with open fists. He pushed me back violently a few times and screamed out that I was a pervert and it wasn’t OK for me to take pictures of drunk girls. I tried to explain that he didn’t understand what was really going on but he was having none of it. Luckily his car was blocking a lane of traffic at this point so he soon returned to it and left the scene. At no point did the women correct him and they left him with the impression that I was the perpetrator and they the victim.

I returned to my car and was pursued by the three women. The front seat lady continued to push me and call me a pervert. I explained why I had taken the picture but it made no difference. I advised her to leave me and to go and look after her friends. She was having none of this either and tried to hold open my car door as I tried to retreat into the cabin. By this time the two friends had composed themselves enough to come and kick the body work of the car. Eventually, they left the scene in the direction of Shoreditch.

Uber and Police Response

At this point I thought it was important to call the Police. I did so not because I was physically confronted by the women or the man who left his car to get involved. It was not because of the racist abuse either. No, the straw that broke the camels back was being called a pervert. Us Uber drivers get an unfair battering in the press that we represent a threat to women riders as sex pests. There are bad apples in every trade and in London, the black taxi trade have had their fair share of bad eggs too though they take every opportunity to portray the private hire trade as offenders. I wasn’t confident that Uber would ever listen to my side of the story when the inevitable rider complaint arrived. While I could live with being thrown off the Uber platform I could never accept the shadow of any allegations of sexual misconduct.

The British Transport Police arrived and took the report promptly. They advised me to attend the nearby Met Police Station and make a full statement there which I did immediately. I would be remiss to not mention how wonderful our emergency services are. I can only say that one can never fully appreciate their professionalism and skill until the day you really need them. The Police were sympathetic and responsive. They felt the incident was serious and should be taken seriously.

After making the report the Police asked me to contact them as soon as possible the next day with the rider’s details – name, address, phone number, email address – from Uber (as drivers we are only ever given the rider’s first name and nothing else).

Eight hours later (Uber don’t operate any real time emergency response) I got a reply to my reports on the incident and I was somewhat relieved that they seemed to accept the seriousness of the incident and were supportive:

Frankly, i’m a little shocked by what you describe, I’m so very sorry to hear that you had such an unpleasant experience with a rider using our platform. I’m happy to hear it sounds like you handled this like a professional and emailing us to let us know about this is the right thing to do.

We obviously take the standard of driver experience extremely seriously, and take every effort to ensure that any rider using the platform adheres to the highest quality standards.

Clearly, in this case this sounds like a long way from what you or I would describe as a quality experience. Please let me assure you that we are currently taking steps to ensure that this experience would not happen again and I will be speaking and managing the process with this rider personally.

You have done the correct thing by informing the police. Should they contact us, we will do what we can to assist with the investigation.

I immediately wrote back and asked for the riders name and address, something I had already asked for in the In App report and was ignored by the staff responding to the initial report. There was no reply to do this during the day and so that afternoon I wrote again (a third time) and asked why there was a delay in providing the suspect details as I had been a victim of a fairly serious offence.

I got another reply from Uber support as follows:

…..sorry to hear about this however we cannot provide you that information for data privacy reasons.

We can provide them to the police subject to the relevant documentation under the Data Protection Act and they can contact us directly to request that. We’d be happy to help them investigate this.

I relayed this message to the Police and they expressed surprise noting that the rider had been my customer too and therefore I should be entitled to the information. I asked Uber again:

We’re really sorry to hear about these incidents and we do whatever we can to help, however as I mentioned we are required to adhere to a very strict privacy policy.

The police can email us directly on the email address supportlondon@uber.com and those emails come straight to a specialised response team who will assist directly.

The Police did contact Uber and duly filled out the Data Protection forms, but after almost 6 weeks Uber have yet to give the Police the details requested so as to identify and contact the suspects. Uber are now are demanding that the Police get a court order for this information. The goals posts have been moved and a Data Protection request is no longer enough.

As to what action they have taken with the rider here is Uber’s reply when I asked them:

In accordance with our privacy policy, I’m afraid I can’t divulge the activity or status of either driver partners or riders on the Uber system. That said, we will always take whatever action necessary to ensure a negative experience is not repeated.

Except this isn’t true. When a rider reported an assault to Uber they committed to cooperating with Police and told the riders friend that they would immediately deactivate the driver.

 Implications & Conclusions

I can only come to one conclusion regarding Uber’s response: Uber simply doesn’t care about driver safety and welfare. They have allowed 6 weeks to pass in their non response to Police and this seriously degrades the quality of the potential investigation by Police. Time passes, memory fades and witness statements become less reliable. It’s simply irresponsible. I have to ask if I had assaulted and racially abused a rider would Uber be as slow in providing my details to the Police? I think not. Why? Because consumers have a voice and power and drivers do not. Consumers can threaten regulatory consent and revenue flows. This is all that matters to Uber and its masters at Goldman Sachs and the Silicon Valley VC community. Ethics and civic responsibility matter not. What would it take for Uber to cooperate: would I have to be murdered, rendered unconscious on life support, hospitalized with serious injury. Where does Uber’s moral threshold lie?

The incident also raises interesting questions of who is actually responsible for safeguarding the rider and driver anyway. Uber’s rider Terms and Conditions say:

For the avoidance of doubt : Uber does not itself provide transportation services, and Uber itself is not a Transportation Provider. Uber acts as an intermediary between you and the Transportation Provider. You acknowledge and agree that provision to you of transportation services by the Transportation Provider is pursuant to the Transportation Contract and that Uber accepts your booking as agent for the Transportation Provider, but is not party to the contract.

Got that? Uber is not even a party to the contract yet refuses to disclose to me as the principal of the contract who I am contracting with even when I have been assaulted. This paragraph is repeated twice in the standard Terms and Conditions.

In the Driver’s contract with Uber there are similar get out clauses:

Partner acknowledges and agrees that Uber does not provide any transportation services, and that Uber is not a transportation or passenger carrier. Uber offers information and a tool to connect Customers seeking Driving Services to Drivers who can provide the Driving Service, and it does not and does not intend to provide transportation or act in any way as a transportation or passenger carrier. Uber has no responsibility or liability for any driving or transportation services provided by the Partner or the Drivers to third parties (including the Customers). The Partner and/or the Drivers will be solely responsible for any and all liability which results or is alleged to be as a result of the operation of the Vehicle(s) and/or the driving or transportation service, including, but not limited to personal injuries, death and property damage. Partner agrees to indemnify, defend and hold Uber harmless from and against any (potential) claims or (potential) damages incurred by any third party, including the Customer or the Driver, raised on account of the provision of the Driving Service. By providing the Driving Service to the Customer, the Partner accepts, agrees and acknowledges that a direct legal relationship is created and assumed solely between the Partner and the Customer. Uber shall not be responsible or liable for the actions, omissions and behaviour of the Customer in or in relation to the Partner, the Driver and the Vehicle.

And on the tricky issue of cooperating with Police Uber remains coy:

In case of a complaint, dispute or conflict between the Partner or the Driver on the one hand and the Customer on the other hand or in other appropriate instances where a legitimate reason for such disclosure exists, Uber may, but shall not be required to, – to the extent permitted by applicable laws and regulations – provide the Customer, Partner, the Driver and/or the relevant authorities the relevant data (including personal data) of the Partner, the Driver or the Customer.

For good measure Uber seeks to silence any drivers who might raise any complaints with the following clause:

…refrain from speaking negatively on Uber’s business and business concept in public

All of this handy lawyering work and the feet dragging in my case flies in the face of Uber’s newly minted Code of Conduct which says:

Uber maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding all forms of discrimination, harassment or abuse.

Non-discrimination
It is unacceptable to refuse to provide or accept services based on a person’s race, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, gender identity, age or any other characteristic protected under applicable federal or state law. This type of behavior can result in permanent loss of access to the Uber platform.

No aggressive behavior
It is disrespectful to make derogatory remarks about a person or group. Furthermore, commenting on appearance, asking overly personal questions and making unwanted physical contact are all inappropriate. We encourage you be mindful of other users’ privacy and personal space. Violence of any kind will not be tolerated.

Human Kindness
Calm and clear communication is the most effective way to defuse any disagreement that may arise between you and another Uber user. Uber expects that all riders and drivers will treat one another with respect and courtesy.

I’m genuinely sorry to put this sorry tale into the public domain. I have no desire to ruin the lives of the women involved in this case or to besmirch the reputation of Uber. In fact I had spoken to the Police about this and I would have been happy if they had been just able to give the suspects a stern talking to after Uber gave over the details. Alternatively, I would also have been happy if Uber had committed to some action but since they won’t tell me if they have and since they have not cooperated with the Police over 6 weeks then I assume they really have taken no action. Since the Police now have to get a court order they posed the question to me about whether I’d be willing to support a prosecution and make a full witness statement and appearance. They rightly feel that if they have to put in a great deal of extra leg work to just get suspect details from Uber then they need to justify the investigative effort with a successful prosecution. My reply – if it has to be something or nothing then it has to be something. If Uber had been cooperative the consequences for all involved could have been much reduced and much Police time would not be wasted. I also happen to believe its important that the public learns of the conditions drivers face every day on the Streets of London. The vast majority of Private Hire and Taxi drivers in London are good, honest people who deserve a modicum of respect from the travelling public and the protection of their business partners and employers when they have been attacked. By simply letting this matter lie contributes to an environment of permissiveness where riders can behave badly and Uber shelters them from accountability.

Come on Uber. Be better than this.