Why my below minimum wage Uber London income hurts everyone

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

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

uber offer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 thoughts on “Why my below minimum wage Uber London income hurts everyone

  1. Lee

    It is time Uber were shown up for what they are. A sub prime lender & abusive employer all backed by Goldman Sachs.

    We need a caring economy not this facade of a sharing economy, where all the money is taken out by the thieving bankers. Surprise!

    Reply
    1. Londoner

      London black cabs are nowhere near the best in the world, or if they are it’s a sad world. They’re over priced, rude, and slow. Nobody I knows uses them, we’re all on the tube or the buses. You see them clogging up the bus lanes occasionally with some rich banker in the back being chauffeured to work, that’s not something to be proud of.

      Reply
  2. Jay

    So refreshing to hear the truth that most of us already know straight from the horses mouth.
    Influential backing from people in power…corruption needs investigating.
    How can a U.S. conglomerate be given the right to dismiss rules & regulations put in place for the safety of paying public whilst all others conform?

    Reply
    1. Manuel fernandez

      Good to hear a selfish view from a passenger. Dont you lack any sympathy for the drivers that have to work 10 hours a day 7 days a week to earn a crust for uber? It hasnt yet happened here but it will as more drivers fill the system, more dangerously tired drivers just to pay the bills whilst cheapskates like yourself get driven around for nothing. And poor old Uber directors paying less taxes than a handful of drivers.. cheapskates are usually blind to this.
      I work for the largest minicab firm in london. Its the same job and there are also many hours to put into the job but they run a safer, drivers are more experienced and the fare cost is on par with taxicabs. Its not that expensive for a journey for drivers that have put a lot of effort into their livelyhoods.
      Your post is aimed at black cabs who do what many class as a degree to be able to get paid that much more for their chosen career. Satnavs work great but black cabs are the best at what they do and only more expensive than my company i work for after midnight.
      You get what you pay for!!
      Would you let your daughter get an Uber …cause its cheap???

      Reply
    2. mandy

      Where on earth did you get the figures from? Anyone who puts £ before safety needs there head tested, Uber do not check drivers have H&R insurance another loop hole by the outrage TFL, loads of evidence of accidents with uber cars and drivers begging customers to say “they are friends and not paying customers” as they only have third party fire & theft or just drive off as don’t actually have insurance, the list goes on! The taxi have to produce all documents and fully enhanced DBS, 2 Mot’s a year + overhaul Full H&R Insurance and full knowledge of London, everyone has a choice, but also everyone has to Adhere to regulations, can’t believe Uber have got away with it up till now! Pure corruption!

      Reply
      1. D045901 Post author

        Mandy

        I think customers are right to be concerned about safety knowing that Uber drivers are having to work excessive hours. Fatigue is a real risk behind the wheel. However, it is not true to say that Uber cars are not properly insured and that drives don’t have enhanced DBS CRB checks. Private hire drivers have exactly the same checks as taxi drivers and our vehicles too have to have two MOTs per annum. You are right though, we don’t have the superior Knowledge of London qualifications.

        Reply
    3. will

      Black Cabs in London are definitely overpriced, but so are the alternative minicab options. This article is dealing with the efforts of the company Uber to usurp the public transport system and monopolize the taxi business with fares that exploit both the drivers and the welfare system by promising wages which it fails to deliver, etc etc. If Uber gain an monopoly, eventually, I can imagine their fares will increase, as Black Cabs’ have done. The article you quote is aggressively anti – Black Cab but does not recognize any of the issues raised in this article. With the ridiculously expensive London fares a subject of general annoyance Uber is able to exploit taxi users with greater cost to the state/people/everyone than Black Cabs currently do.

      Reply
      1. SeanTRex

        Sorry, but your comment is innacurate. For 12 years Black Cabs have received below inflation pay rises. In real terms, with business and fuel costs rocketing, taxis have taken a significant pay cut.

        Further, the tarif is independently set balancing the cost index of drivers potential income with business expenditure inc. a £43, 000 compulsory vehicle. By all means, reduce taxi running costs, reduce the fare.

        Everyone is quck to blame fares are too high, but so is public transport, and ultimately the cost of living. It’s disingenuous to think of London being an expensive city, whilst simultaneously believing taxis should be cheaper. Hence, endorsing everything the article is critical of!

        Reply
        1. j

          Here here,when will they get it,pay peanuts get monkeys
          Pay right fare get a proffesional who knows where you want to go and how to get there.
          Uber surge and this will be common place when the proffesionals are gone but it will be a.continuos surge.good luck

          Reply
      2. j

        There is a two tier system
        Black cabs who are proffesional drivers and ph drivers who are not.
        blacj cabs are a realistic price and uber is not

        Reply
    4. Paul Robertson

      Just read the article and you maths don’t add up taxi fare 11.20 for 2.4 miles uber would be base fare £5.00 plus 2.4×1.25=3 total £8.00 but uber pay no tax in this country that’s why there cheaper

      Reply
    5. SeanTRex

      Clive, an article lifted from The Spectator screams of confirmation bias.

      Forgive me, but are you typing from a script? It appears you chose to skip this entire- intelligently written- article.

      Has it occurred to you that it is the Driver that is Uber’s primary consumer, you are merel enabling an underclass in the UK. Instead of recognising the value of something, you’d prefer a system that drives people income under the breadline.

      Check yourself! It may happen to you one day!

      Reply
    6. Greg

      Read the article numnuts, uber drivers are not being paid enough. So you like modern sweatshops? As long as you pay SFA fu*k everyone else!

      Reply
  3. Sian Berry

    As Green candidate for Mayor I just wanted to add my support to this legal action too. This article makes the link very well between the Uber business model’s need to have driver capacity far in excess of what’s needed and the erosion of worker rights and increased traffic and congestion. As a local councillor in Camden I’ve seen what the latter is doing for parking chaos around Kings Cross and there are many other reasons why we cannot see this huge growth in private hire vehicle numbers continue. Keep up the good work and please let me know if I can help in any way. I’m at action@sianberry.london

    Reply

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