As the time draws near for driver and rider matching service Uber to submit its appeal against TfL’s decision not to grant it a licence extension last year, questions are being asked as to the fitness of the company to even be in the private hire marketplace in the first place. One reason for the questions is a slew of recent revelations concerning the way in which Uber has been vetting drivers in the USA - or maybe not.
As CNN has reported, one Uber driver had been given six and a half years in jail for being a felon in possession of firearms. Worse, he had been accused of shooting a juvenile in the leg, seeking to smuggle rocket launchers into the Middle East, attacking his wife with a crowbar and plotting to hire a hit man. But three years after being released from jail, he decided to become an Uber driver, and Uber let him become one.
What happened? ”The company did not run a background check on him and he was allowed to drive in 2015. Three months later, he followed one of his passengers into her home and sexually assaulted her. He is now serving a 25-year prison sentence”.
Worse still, “Uber has played a key role in shaping the language of many state laws governing rideshare companies, giving the company authority to conduct its own background checks in most states with little or no oversight”. The result is that states including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Nevada, Florida, Texas and California have allowed Uber to do its own vetting. But Massachusetts has not.
The Boston Globe discovered what that meant: “More than 8,000 drivers for ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft have been pulled off Massachusetts roads after failing a new state background check, for infractions that range from license suspensions to violent crimes and sexual offenses, according to records released Wednesday” they told.
There was more. “The state reviewed the criminal and driving records of nearly 71,000 drivers who had already passed reviews by the companies, and rejected 8,206 - about 11 percent. Hundreds were disqualified for having serious crimes on their record, including violent or sexual offenses, and others for driving-related offenses, such as drunken driving or reckless driving, according to the state Department of Public Utilities”.
It can only be imagined how many Uber drivers in states such as California would have been caught by such checks. It underscores the dangers inherent in letting Uber do its own regulation. And it gives a clue why so many Uber drivers in London have been caught behaving in a less than totally lawful manner.
So when Uber go into their appeal, telling the world how they can be trusted to ensure their drivers are properly vetted, you know they are being seriously economical with the actualité. This is a company that is not used to playing by the rules. As the CNN report reminds us, “After launching in 2010, Uber began entering cities without coordinating with city governments or local taxi and limousine regulators. The Uber app then would become so popular with riders and drivers that any attempts by city officials to create regulations were met with fierce resistance, both by users of the app and by Uber's lobbyists”.
Sound familiar? That is what London’s authorities have to face down.