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Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Uber And TfL - Far Too Close

It has become clear recently that driver and rider matching service Uber has deployed all manner of weapons in its bid to get not just a foothold in the London private hire market, but a dominant position. Their PR machine found many press and other media voices unusually susceptible to their propaganda, the public was bombarded with an incessant sales campaign … and then there was Transport for London.
The taxi trade has not been alone in regarding TfL’s accommodation of Uber with at least suspicion, and, more recently, growing hostility, as the behaviour of drivers - and the company’s executives - has raised eyebrows. Rumours abounded of the unusual closeness between the two organisations, a state which, if true, would be downright unhealthy for taxi and private hire operators alike.

And now it is rumour no more: a series of presentation slides has come to light which beg disturbing questions of TfL. The regulator of the taxi and private hire industry should be keeping its distance from all operators, whether individuals, co-operatives, or corporates. What these slides show is little short of a blatant attempt by Uber to bend the rules beyond the limits of elasticity, and what is not far short of offering TfL an inducement to do so.
Let’s start at the very beginning, as it’s a very good place to start. The first slide is titled “The PCO Opportunity”, PCO being the private hire licence anyone driving with Uber must obtain, if they don’t already hold one. Uber’s intention is clear.

Uber is forecasted to exhaust the pool of existing PCO drivers in June [2015?]”. So more new recruits to Uber will have to go through the process of obtaining a PCO.

Recently joined Uber partners [ho ho ho] report that the PCO licensing process takes 9-12 weeks … We have found that the timeline discourages potential drivers from completing the process”. Well, I’m all broken up about a 12 week wait putting some people off. Being entrusted with the safety of punters in London is not some kind of get-rich-quick scheme - those doing The Knowledge, who aspire to become proper taxi drivers, take around four years. Making them wait 12 weeks sounds like an eminently sound way of weeding out those who aren’t fussed.

That much is bad enough. But then comes the “Opportunity”, which tells “We forecast that over 1,200 new PCO drivers will choose Uber in [the first half of] 2015 … these are new opportunities; real potential to take people out of unemployment and into work”. It is not within TfL’s remit to provide a job creation service. Their duty is to regulate the taxi and private hire industry. Was there a demand for thousands more PCOs? Because it is to that question that TfL should be responding. If not, it’s not their concern.

And then comes the seriously dodgy part: “Every 1k new drivers means £250k application fees for TfL … We would like your input on how we can best work with you to provide high quality, complete applications”. Uber can best work with TfL by following the rules as laid down, and if they don’t like it, tough. As to the hit of more application fee revenue, that stinks. It looks so close to the offer of an inducement that TfL should have told them to sling their hooks there and then.
The second slide just goes through the PCO process. But the third brings yet more eyebrow raising suggestions - which also should have seen Uber sent packing.

Could other agencies get involved in the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check? Could DBS speed it up? Again - who is in charge of regulation? Why should the tail wag the dog for the benefit of one provider?
Uber would very much like to be a test centre for the Topographic Test. That is not their business, and this suggestion should have been squashed flat.

Could Uber “help streamline” the PCO process? What does that mean?
As with so much of Uber’s involvement in London, this disclosure provokes far more questions than it answers. If that was a bona fide presentation to TfL, the first of those questions is this - why was Uber allowed to continue operating after coming so close to offering TfL an inducement as makes little difference?

And why has Uber’s request to continue operating in the capital, which is up for decision this month, not been dismissed as a result?

The closeness of the relationship between TfL and Uber needs to be thoroughly investigated - and then made public. In the meantime, there should be no renewal of Uber’s licence. And if Uber doesn’t like that, that’s just too bad. The regulation of the taxi and private hire industries is not their job, and they should not seek to make it so.


Anonymous said...

"...media voices unusually susceptible to their propaganda..."

Tell me you were joking or just plain tired when you wrote that.

Which parts of our monopoly-owned extreme right wing (at the very least) media is "unusually susceptible" to the propaganda they in the first place write and vomit into the ether?

While you're at it, try to identify the individual(s) who wrote and presented those slides. You'll find them hiding under the same rock as Bell Pottinger - that's the same "Bell" who once churned out destructive reactionary shit for the tories, and who became a "sir" because of it.

"Unusually susceptible" my arse.

Ted Bangor said...

I'm sure this would be all over the newspapers if it wasn't for the latest terror arrests taking up all the front pages, and then pages, 2, 3 ,4 ,6, 7, 9 etc, like they normally do.

No wait, I mean the girlfriend of the second in line to the throne (possibly) saying something or the not at all surprising "news" that the tories want to curb migration so much after brexit they can't be bothered to do it before.

Strange that it is only the Metro that can spot actual news.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is any justification for making people who want to be drivers wait more than a few weeks. Some people need seasonal work, or find themselves out of work, or on zero hours contracts, or short of cash. In the past people turned to minicabbing, which for some reason you are not frothing about.

Uber isn't so terrible. If it were not for Uber, I doubt that black cabs would even be taking credit cards--so stuck in the past this lot are. They also, finally, have an app--wonder where they got that idea from? And I've also noticed that black cab drivers these days are much more polite and keep their unpleasant opinions to themselves. I've long felt that competition has had a civilizing effect on black cab drivers.

And I get that they have trained, and their cabs are expensive and regulated. But the world has moved on--they need to do the same. The idea that you need to do The Knowledge these days is just daft. Rather than making other drivers jump the same hurdles or pointless ones like 12-week registration periods, they should be pushing for their own training to change. But they won't because cabbies like their closed shop. Fewer drivers means they can refuse to take you where you want to go, even if you are alone and female and it is late. "not going that way luv". I have *never* had trouble getting home late at night since the invention of app-hailing car rides. So no, I don't want there to be a shortage of drivers this Christmas because its not safe.

As for TFL viewing this as a money making opportunity, good on them. They work for us. The money they make help keep London moving for goodness sake. Of course they should be making as much money as possible from Uber. To imagine otherwise is silly. They should offer a "surge charge" to get the approvals through faster and sting Uber for half a million rather than 250K.

Anonymous said...

" I've long felt that competition has had a civilizing effect on black cab drivers."

Christ almighty.

So the reduction of cab drivers to "competitive" in-fighting and greed - as in Canary Wharf, Wall Street and Frankfurt - has "civilized" life has it?

If that's the case, I'm all in favour of the placard pointed to the upper floor levels of Wall Street at the start of the latest global ripoff. It read, "Jump you fuckers, JUMP".