Tag Archives: TfL

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

Rabbit

Flickr: David Rynde

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

Here is what worries me right now:

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

Uber 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.

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.

UberPool – TfL has failed us all again

Last Friday, Uber launched UberPool to the utter dismay of every private hire driver on the platform. We were given no notice, allowed no opportunity for advance consultation and no choice to opt out. Even at launch, while Uber was providing extensive details to the public on fare structures, we drivers were left in the dark. Some of us were offered in person training via an SMS message but when I went to book there were no slots available at all.

As drivers, completed the basic on boarding training details started to trickle out and it was worse than feared, First, Uber have opted to grab 35% commission share – much higher than most markets in the US. Drivers are paid on a flat fare based on historical data but you can bet that the fare is constructed to benefit Uber and not the driver. We saw some fares netting as low as £3.50 for 2 miles over twenty minutes. This is simply uneconomic and it is unreasonable for Uber to force drivers to accept these fares if we are notionally independent business people.

Uber has proven itself to be an unrepentant profit seeking machine without regard for drivers but we are entitled to expect more from our regulator who we pay to order our trade through our taxes and license fees. So why are they asleep at the wheel when it comes to UberPool?

Let’s consider the reason why private hire regulations are under review at the moment. This from the introduction to the PH regulatory review on TfL’s website:

Because of a number of developments within the private hire industry including advancements in new technology and an increase in the different ways people engage and share taxi and private hire services, we are undertaking a review of the current policies and processes that govern the licensing of private hire drivers, vehicles and operators.

With new regulations not due until June 2016 why has TfL then jumped the gun to allow UberPool before the consultation has even finished? In the first stage of consultation there was universal concern over safety of ride share concepts such as UberPool:

Many stakeholders expressed concern about this proposal, with particular anxiety about sharing at night and ensuring that customers can make an informed choice on whether to share…….The GMB trade union argued that all sharing should be prohibited because of the risks to drivers and passengers; the taxi trade associations felt that sharing should not be allowed in private hire vehicles

So there you have it, consensus agreement that there are very serious issues in operating ride sharing. As a result TfL pledged:

….the regulatory framework must properly any safety concerns and the safety of passengers and drivers must not be put at risk. We will continue to take action in relation to the use of any vehicle undertaking journeys for commercial reward which circumvents the licensing system.

And yet last week Garrett Emmerson, Chief Operating Officer for Surface Transport said publicly that TfL had sought and received assurances from Uber on the safety of UberPool. Funny that, because Uber says its not the transportation provider – we are. So what assurances did TfL get exactly and why didn’t TfL ask us as the relevant transportation provider?

Clearly, TfL has rode rough shod over the consultation process and pre empted our collective participation by giving UberPool an immediate go ahead.

We’ll be looking for answers at our demo outside TfL on December 17. Join us there.

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

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.

16 questions for TfL about the new Uber driver contract

Long post alert.

Last week TfL responded to some concerns I had about the new Uber driver contract and its potential knock on threat to driver compliance by muddying the water between the separate roles of the operator and driver. In a separate DM on twitter TfL agreed to take questions and have their legal team review. I sent over the following questions based on my own concerns and those from drivers that I’ve heard including at two separate workshops amongst drivers. Uber have refused to provide any further guidance beyond the 22 pages of the contract and addendum but they are welcome to comment here if they can answer any of the questions posed to TfL. When TfL respond – assuming they are as good as their word – I’ll post any answers I get in the interests of the community.

Here goes:

  1. Uber is asking me to agree that it is a technology services provider and does not provide ‘transportation services, function as a transport carrier or agent for the transportation of passengers.’ In agreeing to this does it mean I am agreeing to drive for an entity that is not an operator as defined by the law? If yes and if I do so am I breaking the law?

 

  1. The contract specifies: ‘Driver will obtain the destination from the User, either in person upon pickup or from the Driver App if the User elects to enter such destination via Uber’s mobile application.’ However TfL Operators Regulations on operator record keeping 11.d say the operator must record ‘the main specified destination at the time of the booking’. If I accept an Uber booking and it turns out that no destination is entered am I breaking the law if I do not cancel the booking immediately?

 

  1. The Uber contracts says: ‘As between Uber and Customer, Customer acknowledges and agrees that: (a) Customer and its Drivers are solely responsible for determining the most effective, efficient and safe manner to perform each instance of Transportation Services.’ In the contract Uber broadly defines drivers as customers. Given that a common rider concern or complaint relates to the route taken does this mean the driver must now maintain for TfL a complaint log rather than the Operator per operator regulations 14.1 & 2? It is important that TfL clarify this and directs Uber to route all complaints directly to the driver. At the moment Uber does not, instead Uber will deduct from driver income any refunds it decides to give at its sole discretion. This is an important point of clarity not only for drivers but also the travelling public as to where accountability lies and how complaints are to be handled.

 

  1. The Addendum also stipulates the following: ‘Uber and its Affiliates in the Territory do not, and shall not be deemed to, direct or control Driver generally or in Driver’s performance of Transportation Services or maintenance of any Vehicles. Driver acknowledges that neither Uber nor any of its Affiliates in the Territory controls, or purports to control: (a) when or for how long Driver will utilize the Driver App or the Uber Services..’ Similarly, I’m concerned if I accept this clause I will defacto become an operator and will be faced with the costs and responsibilities that such would entail. I’d be grateful for your opinion.

 

  1. The new Uber driver contract says: ‘Driver may be deactivated or otherwise restricted from accessing or using the Driver App or the Uber Services in the event of a violation of this Addendum or Transportation Company’s violation of the Agreement, or Driver’s or Transportation Company’s disparagement of Uber or any of its Affiliates, or Driver’s or Transportation Company’s act or omission that causes harm to Uber’s or any of its Affiliates’ brand, reputation or business as determined by Uber in its sole discretion.’ There maybe rare occasions when a driver correctly believes the operator (if Uber is indeed an operator) is not fulfilling its duties according to the law and such breaches are of vital public interest.  I’m concerned such a driver who whistleblows these concerns  to TfL or other regulatory authorities will be perceived as ‘disparaging’ by Uber leading to his dismissal. If this were to happen, will such communication be protected under public interest disclosure laws? Will TfL represent the driver in any such dispute with the operator to prevent loss of livelihood and to maintain a safe haven for public interest disclosure?

 

  1. The new Uber contract specifies that drivers may lose their job if they cannot maintain a rider ratings level specified by Uber. However, common sense and collective experience shows that drivers ratings decline when Uber deploys surge, dynamic pricing on the market. Is dynamic pricing legally permissible? Can TfL require Uber to declare the correlation between surge pricing and driver ratings so that this factor maybe factored out before any decision to dismiss a driver? This pricing model incentivizes drivers to work when prices are high but fear of dismissal can also force us to work only when prices are low.

 

  1. The new Uber driver contracts says ‘Uber and its Affiliates reserve the right to use, share and display Driver and User ratings and comments in any manner in connection with the business of Uber and its Affiliates without attribution to or approval of Driver. Driver acknowledges that Uber and its Affiliates are distributors (without any obligation to verify) and not publishers of Driver and User ratings and comments..’ There is an obvious concern for driver safety and privacy when their Uber profile and data is posted on the internet by riders in connection with a customer service complaint. At the moment this happens on a daily basis relating to complaints well outside of the driver’s control such as account fraud, Uber cancellation charges and so on. If the Operator takes no responsibility for protecting driver privacy I can envisage serious harm as a result of internet shaming. Under current and proposed regulations is it possible to require the Operator to take responsibility for safeguarding driver data?

 

  1. The new Uber driver contract says they driver is allowed to renegotiate the fare with the rider but only for a reduced fare but not an increased one. Under terms of my license will I be breaking the law if I renegotiate the pre booked fare? Am I, as driver, permitted to increase the fare under TfL regulations?

 

  1. The new Uber driver contract says ‘As between Uber and Customer, Customer acknowledges and agrees that: (a) Customer and its Drivers are solely responsible for determining the most effective, efficient and safe manner to perform each instance of Transportation Services.’ but also says Uber and/or its Affiliates in the Territory reserve the right to: (i) adjust the Fare for a particular instance of Transportation Services (e.g., Driver took an inefficient route,. This is very confusing for us drivers. Under the current regulations who exactly is responsible for adjusting fares and refunding customers? Is it the driver or the Operator? Is Uber an Operator as it defines itself in this contract?

 

  1. The new Uber driver contract specifies: ‘Customer agrees to maintain during the term of this Agreement commercial general liability insurance that provides protection against personal injury, advertising injury and property damage to third parties at levels of coverage required by all applicable laws in the Territory.’ This is in addition to a requirement to carry ‘no fault’ vehicle insurance which I take to be comprehensive car insurance. However, the operator regulations specify it is the Operator who must maintain general liability insurance of no less than £5 mio at least for the operations centre. Can you advise on what kind of additional commercial liability insurance drivers should buy? Uber has declined to explain. If I take out commercial insurance am I acting as an operator and therefore breaking the law? If I take out such insurance where should the injured party look first for compensation – the driver or Uber’s policy?

 

  1. The new driver contract also demands that Uber is named as additional insured party in the driver and commercial liability policy. Again, I’m keen not to blur the lines between the operator and driver. Is it appropriate or even a requirement for the driver to insure the operator? Should it not be the other way around? The contract also demands I must inform Uber if I have any claim on such policies even if there is no rider in the car or if I am using the car privately. Is this a regulatory requirement and Uber is demanding this data to pass on to TfL as part of a regulatory requirement?

 

  1. Uber also included the following in the contract which greatly worries me in terms of safety and security management: ‘By using the Uber Services and Driver App, Customer acknowledges and agrees that Customer or a Driver may be introduced to a third party (including Users) that may pose harm or risk to Customer, a Driver or other third parties. Customer and Drivers are advised to take reasonable precautions with respect to interactions with third parties encountered in connection with the use of the Uber Services or Driver App. Notwithstanding Uber’s appointment as the limited payment collection agent of Customer for the purpose of accepting payment from Users on behalf of Customer as set forth in Section 4 above, Uber expressly disclaims all liability for any act or omission of Customer, any Driver, any User or other third party.’ Earlier this year I was assaulted by a customer and it took Uber more than 10 weeks to comply with Metropolitan Police requests for rider identity and other information necessary to the investigation. Uber refused to disclose if the rider was ever removed from the platform so as to reduce future risk to drivers. I have reason to believe they were not. What responsibilities does the Operator have to protect the driver on the front line? Surely, Uber has a responsibility to not knowingly introduce drivers to riders known to have caused injury to other drivers?

 

  1. The next clause really worries me a lot. Customer shall indemnify, defend (at Uber’s option) and hold harmless Uber and its Affiliates and their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, successors and assigns from and against any and all liabilities, expenses (including legal fees), damages, penalties, fines, social security contributions and taxes arising out of or related to: (a) Customer’s breach of its representations, warranties or obligations under this Agreement; or (b) a claim by a third party (including Users, regulators and governmental authorities) directly or indirectly related to Customer’s provision of Transportation Services or use of the Uber Services. If TfL were to take legal action against Uber as an operator for something that relates directly or indirectly to my actions as a driver could I end up having to pay Uber’s legal bills in their dealing with such a complaint from TfL?

 

  1. Similarly for this next clause, by signing this contract would I be accepting all of Uber’s regulatory responsibilities as an Operator? Will TfL now hold me accountable for Operator responsibilities? As between Customer and Uber, Customer is and shall be solely responsible for its Drivers’ provision of Transportation Services. As such, Customer shall indemnify, defend (at Uber’s option) and hold harmless Uber and its Affiliates and their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, successors and assigns from and against any and all liabilities, expenses (including legal fees), damages, penalties, fines, social security contributions and taxes directly or indirectly arising out of or related to its Drivers’ provision of Transportation Services or use of the Uber Services.

 

  1. The contract also specifies I must agree: ‘The parties expressly agree that: (a) this Agreement is not an employment agreement, nor does it create an employment relationship (including from a labor law, tax law or social security law perspective), between Uber (or any of its Affiliates in the Territory) and a Customer or any Driver; and (b) no joint venture, partnership, or agency relationship exists between Uber and Customer or Uber and any Driver.’ Obviously I don’t want to give up any statutory rights especially to worker rights. By signing this am I giving up these rights? Does TfL have a policy on fair employment agreements in the private hire trade between operators and drivers? Is there a TfL regulation that requires the Operator to obey all employment laws in order to keep its license? More confusingly the Addendum stipulates: ‘Driver currently maintains a contractual or employment arrangement with Transportation Company to perform passenger carriage services for Transportation Company.’ Does this mean that I cannot  be a driver as an individual sole trader? I appreciate this is a question for Uber but they are not prepared to take questions on the contract. While the main contract refers to me broadly as the ‘customer’, the addendum refers to me as ‘the transportation company’ and the ‘driver’ which is all very confusing for us. Does TfL see these roles as separate functions under the regulations and if so which responsibilities are assigned to the Operator as distinct from Driver?

 

  1. Finally I appreciate your advice on the arbitration clause. Arbitration is binding, confidential and can only be accesses in the Netherlands. If I have a dispute with Uber over terms that I am worried would place me outside of compliance with TfL I would not be able to disclose this to the regulator. Or is it possible that the obligation to disclose to TfL supersedes any agreement on arbitration arrangements?

First reaction to High Court decision that Uber is not a meter in London

I must admit to mixed emotions about the High Court devision. On the one hand I’m genuinely happy that my colleagues will continue to be rewarded for both time and distance. This only makes sense when operating in an urban environment which is becoming more constrained and congested.

Yet I can’t help but feel sorry for cabbies who have invested their time and effort in the Knowledge only to see their regulatory rights be slowly taken apart and thrown on the scrap heap as if worthless.  And being objective for a second, as someone who has worked in tech for a long time – whatever the High Court says – Uber is a metered system. Dematerializing the meter and moving into the cloud does not change its essential functions.

More troubling, despite TfL taking the case to court and the Mayor calling cabbies luddites, this ruling would seem to lock cabbies in a box of obsolescence. What if Cabbies were to decide to innovate, move their meters into the cloud to reduce transaction friction – would such a move now put them in a deregulated environment just the same as PH? The regulatory distinction is now worthless to all stakeholders whether driver, rider or competitor. So in 25 years from now will cabbies be forced to stay in an analogue world of mechanical metres in a regulated market or chose to meter in the cloud and then enter a completely unregulated market? What sense is a consumer to make of the distinction between virtual and mechanical metres?

It’s TfL’s job to develop and evolve smart policy not the courts. So the thorny question of what the purpose of regulating a meter is at all must now be tackled by TfL since its now so easy for any operator to escape to the cloud. We should regulate or deregulate by democratic consent not as a by product of a seperate high court technical ruling.

Most of all though, I fear this will be a pyrrhic victory for Uber drivers. Our time, as metered in the cloud, is only worth £7.20 per hour gross before costs. With this ruling – combined with TfL’s failure to cap private hire license issues and the provisions in the proposed private hire regulatory review – I’m not expecting an up lift in my £5.03 per hour take home as a result. In fact, I expect an acceleration to statutory or defacto deregulation and the race to the very bottom with all drivers earning far below the living wage.

Londoners as well as private and public hire drivers may soon all look back on the era of the black cab as salad days indeed.