Tag Archives: worker rights

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$.

Save the Children save Uber’s children

On Monday at 1230 I will be joining a small delegation of United Private Hire Drivers members to deliver an important message to Save the Children at their offices on St John St. Its an open initiative, if you care about charity ethics and worker rights do come along and join us.

We believe Save the Children has allowed the promise of cash to get in the way of seeing what is really important. Worse, I happen to think by supporting Uber’s PR campaign they are actively participating in creating the problems they are trying to create.

By way of background, during the autumn Uber and Save the Children teamed up in support of Syrian refugees. On the surface of it nothing wrong with that. Except this – Save the Children’s policy position on child poverty says that employers and policy makers should:

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

And therein lies the problem. Should Save the Children:

  1. take Uber’s money and look the other way when it comes to drivers being paid below minimum wage and denied any rights here in London?
  2. refuse Uber’s money and therefore raise less aid for Syrian refugees?
  3. take Uber’s money but also take the opportunity to speak out on worker rights?

I can’t solve that dilemma for Save the Children but I did reach out to their CEO and the senior management team twice in the autumn but was soundly ignored. In fact it was not until UPHD announced it was going public on this in advance of the Uber GiveBack campaign due to kick off on January 23rd that I got this reply from interim CEO, Tanya Steele:

Thank you for your letter and your expression of support for our work with refugees from Syria. Donations from the public will go towards our life-saving work with them.

We can assure you that every opportunity with a corporate or brand is considered independently, reflecting its potential impact for children. As a children’s organisation we work tirelessly to protect children and during an emergency such as the refugee crisis, we do whatever it takes to help save children’s lives. This means responding quickly to opportunities that will support our work, such as the opportunity to raise vital funds that was presented to us by Uber last year. We would like to thank all the Uber drivers who supported the clothes collection appeal. I am sorry that you are disappointed with the decision we took and I appreciate you are likely to continue to raise your concerns directly with Uber.

Nice try at deflecting but, in fact, I never expressed disappointment at the partnership with Uber. I expressed concern that the charity ignored Uber’s exploitation of drivers in the rush to the bank. It is a move that is contradictory to Save the Children’s own policy. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Justin and Team

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that nobody – yes, nobody – from Save the Children has seen fit to address our concerns about your partnership with Uber. You will be well aware from the media of our protests and our active legal pursuit to secure worker rights for private hire drivers in London who mostly earn below minimum wage, lack holiday pay or even rights to rest breaks.

Save the Children, as Uber’s partner, has a unique opportunity, nay, obligation, to use this position speak up for worker rights for Uber drivers. To look the other way while benefiting from a partnership that exploits drivers and impoverishes the children of 100,000 London drivers would be surely not just be a betrayal of vulnerable workers but also of your own principles. Your own policy position is quite clear on what needs to happen to stop impoverishment of the children of Uber drivers:

Ensure that those in work are not being paid below the poverty line, by backing the living wage and increasing the minimum wage.  
I would still like to believe your oversight in not communicating with us is just a miscommunication rather than a misjudgment. Nevertheless, we do plan to visit your office next Monday January 18 at 12:30PM with a delegation of drivers to deliver a hard copy of our letter in person to your office. If you happen to be in the office perhaps you might consider meeting with some of us. We also plan to issue a press release at 12:00PM on Thursday January 14 and we will invite representatives of the media to join us as we deliver our letter to you at St. John’s Lane next Monday.

 

I also wrote later asking if I could read Save the Children’s donation acceptance and refusal policy – something that is recommended as best practice for fundraisers – but have been met only with frosty silence. I thought the policy might at least help me understand Save the Children’s policy. However the failure to communicate meaningfully on well founded concerns just convinces me that all is not as it should be.

Unfortunately, Save the Children has form here and has been accused in going too far in accepting corporate cash unconditionally. In 2010 the New York Times reported how Save the Children dropped the soft drink sugar tax campaign after taking money from Coca Cola and putting a representative from the firm on their board. Then in 2013 Save the Children was exposed for suppressing any criticism of British Gas home energy prices in its fuel poverty campaign lest it threaten the regular cash injections it was receiving in its partnership with the energy firm.  In 2014 the charity attempted to give Tony Blair a ‘legacy award’ before 500 of their own staff mutinied and the award plan was dropped. Save the Children has an impressive line up of donors, many of whom have questionable ethics including Exxon Mobil, Wal Mart, Chevron, Cadbury raider Mondelez as well as Uber investor – and the firm Rolling Stone magazine famously tagged ‘a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money’ – yes, Goldman Sachs.

UPHD decided to raise the matter once more ahead of Uber’s latest do good PR scheme set to kick off on January 23. Uber is not giving much in the way of driver compensation, corporate tax, VAT or national insurance contributions but none the less it wants to #GiveBack. If charities like Save the Children want to participate in this reputation laundering exercise with Uber then they must not abandon principle. They must stand in solidarity with those oppressed by the Uber business model.

Before Uber takes license to #GiveBack it needs to show that it gives a damn.

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.

Why we protest

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

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

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

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

Uber income weekly report Nov 9

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

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

Uber Income

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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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.

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Credit: Flickr, Mark Seton

Was Chuka Umunna sold a pup by the Uber man from Wonga?

The former COO and CEO of Wonga, a controversial pay day lender, Niall Wass, now runs all of Uber’s business outside of the USA. Mr Wass is no stranger, to taking a more muscular approach to government lobbying and public relations similar to that pursued by Uber.  And if the coyness of the current Labour candidates for Mayor on all things Uber is anything to go by his efforts in Whitehall and City Hall are already paying off with the emergence of oddly silent and compliant politicians.

Uber explains away the pain of its disruption as necessary creative destruction which delivers a brighter, better future? But is it really just a 19th century, feudal type employment model hiding behind the sparkly facade of new tech.

Chuka Umunna’s speech last week to the Policy Network suggests he is gulping down the Uber Kool-aid without providing much reflection on policy implications beyond laissez faire market determinism. In fact he referred to the problem of the ‘left’s hyperventilating about Uber’ and ‘crippling conservatism’. I decided to write him a letter. I’ll post a reply if I ever get one.

 

Dear Chuka

I am a London Uber driver and I read your speech to the Policy Network last week with interest particularly your comments on Uber as follows:

‘So it is important that we understand the sheer scale and impact of new technologies. At the moment we are engaged in a debate about Uber and its threat to one of the last vestiges of vocational labour markets left in London, those of the black taxi cabs and their attainment of ‘The Knowledge’. But the reality is that within the next decade there will be the emergence of driverless cars so we have to intensify our exploration of how to support people in a knowledge economy and the realities of lifelong learning, as well as lifelong teaching. As people live longer we will have to think about how to engage them constructively in work and teaching in new ways.’

As an ‘app’ driver and someone who spent the last 10 years or so working in the software sector I fully understand and appreciate the opportunities and disruption such technologies bring. As a recently licensed London private hire driver I have wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity such technologies offer. Driving for Uber has offered a degree of flexibility that brings significant advantages. 

However, there are personal and social costs that need careful consideration and management by policy makers such as yourself. I highlight them in summary as follows:

  • Too early to tell: Uber is a relatively new player in a volatile market still funded by venture capital. It’s growth appears to be highly subsidized by venture capital and so its difficult to yet see what the long term consumer affordability of its service is likely to be once it reaches maturity and moves past an IPO. 
  • Worker rights: currently Uber denies its London drivers worker rights which would entitle them to the minimum wage, paid holidays and place on itself an obligation for occupational and operational safety. In August I worked an average 50 hour week for £5.03 per hour. The GMB is backing our legal challenge for worker rights now underway. 
  • Perverse market incentives: Uber relies on network effects to maximise profitability which in turn requires rapid growth and monopoly positions. Uber passes on all operational risk and capital costs to individual driver operators. Yet such partners have no say over pricing and commission levels charged for their services. In a race to the bottom drivers are forced to work for below minimum wage, bear all operational risk as well and the costs of the economic inefficiency of over supply. Consumers face the long term risk of a monopoly supplier and Londoners bear the external costs of added pollution and congestion from such over supply.  
  • Long term investment: you seem to suggest that black cabbies will need to retrainas a consequence of their obsolescence due to the emergence of driverless cars in the next decade. When and where will the public investment be made on our roads infrastructure to enable such a driverless system to emerge?  How can the knowledge be adapted for the future or do you envisage its wholesale scrapping? What is the heritage value of ‘the knowledge’ of London for the cultural life of the city?

In summary, given the risks, uncertainties and challenges to worker rights it is a bit early to bet the current welfare of all hackney drivers (both private hire and taxi) on a future promise that carries such risk and uncertainty? What policy actions to you intend to take to protect the travelling public and workers from the issues I’ve raised both now and in the future? 

Finally, I must ask – do you support our campaign for workers rights for Uber London drivers? 

I, and and I’m sure many of your constituents, would be greatly interested in your reply.

Best Regards

After Super Sunday why is Tessa Jowell still sitting on the fence over Uber?

Below is a letter I just sent to Tessa Jowell. Despite several attempts to get clarification from her campaign I am still none the wiser. Hopefully a prompt answer to this letter will help clear up things.

Dear Ms Jowell

As a GMB member and a driver for Uber in London I am following your campaign with great interest. I notice that you have said you will boycott Uber until they pay tax in the UK yet your campaign manifesto says ‘many Londoners want an alternative: the mobility a car provides without the hassle and cost of owning one’. I believe this is a vision Uber also shares for the future of urban mobility.

But I’m sure you understand as prospective voters what matters much more than your personal, private actions on Uber is what policies you would bring to bear in office. And this is where I am left with a great deal of uncertainty. Let me explain: the GMB has launched a challenge to secure worker rights for Uber drivers in London. Last month I worked an average 52 hour week and earned just £5.03 per hour. Meanwhile TfL continue to accelerate issuance of new private licenses as our incomes steadily decline. As we bear all operational risk and cost there is no marginal cost to Uber adding more drivers to its platform. In fact, the more there are the better the response time for consumers and the economic inefficiency of over supply is passed to drivers and the external cost of congestion and deteriorated air quality is passed to Londoners. You should also know that following a racially aggravated assault while working for Uber the company failed to cooperate with our Metropolitan police for more than 10 weeks. 

If our campaign for workers rights is successful Uber will be obligated to observe UK national minimum wage and take responsibility for safety. This is important not only for Uber drivers but also for taxi drivers and all Londoners.The minimum wage would help stop a race to the bottom destabilising the entire hackney market with below fair cost fares. It would also reduce the risk of desperate Uber drivers working round the clock to cover their costs and the consequent danger to the travelling public. More importantly, it would place an obligation for operational and occupational safety back on Uber. 

Yet, despite a number of attempts to contact you I have not got a clear response as to whether you will support our campaign for worker rights. Can you please clarify for me whether you support this campaign or not? 

I hasten to add this is not about a choice between embracing new technology and clinging to old market structures. We are already the early and enthusiastic adopters. However, all markets, new and old, must be fair to workers and not predatory. 

I look forward to hearing your reply. 

Best Regards

Open letter to Sadiq Khan: as the GMB candidate why are you not supporting a GMB campaign for worker rights?

Update: Sadiq Khan supports!

Screenshot_2015-09-09-15-59-27

 

Dear Mr Khan

I am a GMB member currently working for Uber in London as a TfL licensed private hire driver. I have followed your Mayoral campaign with interest and I understand you are the GMB candidate of choice. I am impressed by your track record in human rights legal cases which, over years, seemed to have focused on civil rights issues and police over reach. But I need not tell you that human rights also extend beyond civil rights to economic and labour rights and this is where I have some reservations about your candidacy though I have not yet voted. 

Last month I worked an average 53 hour week and yet only earned £5.03 per hour while driving for Uber. As TfL continue to mint 500 new licenses a week to fuel the Uber machine, us drivers see our incomes steadily fall. This means we have to work more hours to cover our fixed costs and to make the absolute income levels needed to support our families. Neither TfL nor Uber control our hours and all the operational risk is is our own. This is a dangerous situation not only for increasingly fatigued drivers but also for London’s travelling public and pedestrians. You should also know also that I was assaulted by a customer while working for Uber yet it took the firm 10 weeks to cooperate with the police to handover details to identify the perpetrators for police interview.

My colleagues and I, with kind support of GMB, are bringing a case to Employment Tribunal to force Uber to respect our worker rights. These statutory rights, which fall short of employment rights, would entitle us to earn the minimum wage, holiday pay and place an occupational safety obligation on Uber. These are modest rights but it would help stabilize the market by establishing a minimum wage floor and it would also obligate Uber not to threaten public safety by ensuring drivers have adequate rest. This stabilization is not only good for us but it is also good for the taxi trade as we lessen the effects of unfair competition from private hire drivers operating effectively below reasonable cost.  

http://www.leighday.co.uk/News/2015/July-2015/Uber-faces-UK-legal-action-from-drivers

My concern is, though my colleagues have been in touch directly with your campaign team and with you via twitter asking for your support, you have not yet supported our GMB campaign even though you are the GMB candidate. Why is that?

I am worried that some of the Mayoral candidates have watched how Uber conducted a campaign against Mayor DeBlasio in New York and worried that something similar could happen to them in London should they challenge Uber. Many of us therefore are seriously worried about the damage to our democracy if election candidates are intimidated by a company not yet even publicly listed and controlled by the likes of Goldman Sachs. Given these concerns, I ask for you to clarify your position on Uber and to publicly back our campaign for workers rights. Will you do so?

Mr Khan, please keep hope alive for 80,000 Londoners and their families. Please publicly support our campaign for fairness. 

Best Regards

Anil Dash invents the bus

Anil Dash has a big voice on all things new media and technology; a futurist, if you like. But having worked in tech for quite a few years myself I can attest that the hype cycle is alive and well. This is never more than when technologists such as Dash start predicting the future but instead end up reinventing the past.

In a piece for the Medium, Uber for Uber, Dash has 10 suggestions for making Uber ‘even better’. I’ll paraphrase here but do go and read the post here. The comments in parentheses are mine.

  1. Switch to electric. (yep)
  2. Extend access beyond phones to payment cards. (Oyster cards anyone?)
  3. Set up ride sharing stations for efficient pooling & predictability of where to get a ride. (sounds awfully like a bus stop, no?)
  4. Link cars together for greater capacity with one driver or perhaps driverless. This would be especially efficient if the driver followed a predefined route to increase predictability. (ermmm could this be like a public bus route?)
  5. Radically reduce cost – with higher ride capacity and fewer drivers and without the inconvenience of tipping you can get a ride into town for the price of a cup of coffee. (yes, I would expect the bus to cost less than driving into town in a single car by myself. The price of a cup of coffee seems right. No I don’t want to tip the public bus driver but yes I should tip my Uber driver for offering a personalized service when merited) 
  6. Reduce costs further by allowing advertising on the ‘cars’ and in the ‘rideshare stations’. (advertising on buses and in bus stations – well I never)
  7. Build a smart apps platform – once you’ve got scale of ridership you can offer information services to better integrate the transportation experience. (yes I agree and the more mass the transport mode, the bigger the opportunity)
  8. Increase car capacity. And Anil says this idea is especially radical. If the queues at the ride share station (aka bus stop) build up then you might want to sit in a super car with all your friends, one big enough with ‘capacity even more than a bus carries’. But the non stop predictions don’t stop here. Anil also imagines a series of the cars moving along guided tracks through the city. There’s even some research already carried out on this apparently. (the modern locomotive was patented by James Watt in 1784 and the first full scale railway went into operation in 1804)
  9. Ensure equal access. Anil thoughtfully considers that a mass transit system such as the one he imagines would need careful policy mandates to cover concerns such as location of ride sharing stations and integration into urban development planning. He even imagines that such transport systems might be ‘run in conjunction with municipal authorities’. (Fancy that! The jokes write themselves folks.)
  10. Now this suggestion is Anil’s self described ‘moonshot’: Imagine if we took this newly invented transport system and put it underground to free up surface space. (Damn, if only Cross Rail or London Underground had thought of this. They might even have gone electric – see #1 above.)
  11. err —- that’s it.

Joking aside for a minute, we can see how easy it is for technologists to reinvent the past and sell us old wine in new bottles labeled as technological innovation. Policy makers are seduced or even forced into adopting these ideas however hair brained lest they be seen as luddites and not progressive. Policy makers can so easily get stuck on the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ phase of the hype cycle and do enormous damage to the public good as a result.

In the case of Uber, the company likes to present itself as a technology company disrupting and reinventing the taxi and mini cab business model. In reality the service remains the same in the non virtual, real world. That is to say a driver and car shows up to chauffeur you from A to B in the real rather than virtual world. Disruption comes from Uber entering a market with a very poor service ethos and providing a clean car and a service oriented driver. That is the good part. What is less good is the regressive part. Like Anil’s leap into the past to find the future, Uber have been mining the 19th century to reinvent long gone, unjust labour practices and sell them as the future to our policy makers.

This is why the GMB has taken a case forward to Employment Tribunal in the UK to ensure that in the brave new future, whether its old wine or new, drivers will always get a fair deal.