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Sunday 28 June 2015

Tories, Uber, And Corruption

The seemingly unstoppable rise of rider-and-driver matching service Uber continues in London, with so little being done by increasingly occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson to protect the capital’s black cabs - for whom the costs of getting on the road and remaining there are far higher than Ron Hopeful with his Prius and satnav - that many cabbies’ exasperation with their one-time champion has boiled over.
Whatever Bozza has suggested as a way to assuage cabbies has been too little, and too late, as many of them see fare income fall to levels that are becoming unsustainable. Why the Mayor - and Transport for London (TfL) - have effectively sat on their collective hands and done nothing is becoming clearer, though, as news emerges that Uber may have friends in the very highest places.

While the Guardian reported Bozza’s tinkering around the edges - “Boris Johnson calls for mini-Knowledge for Uber drivers … Mayor speaks out in defence of black-cab drivers and says Transport for London are consulting on language and geography tests for minicab firms” - the Standard’s Londoner’s Diary carried the first suggestion that the Mayor was not acting with as much freedom as he might have liked.
Why did Boris Johnson, staunch defender of the black cab trade, soften his line on Uber at the London Assembly last month?” asked the author, before citing a conversation one cabby had had with “Grant Davis, chairman of the London Cab Drivers’ Club and a lunch companion of one Boris Johnson, whom he updates on the black cab situation around City Hall” as the source of their rumour. The news was potentially explosive.

Boris apparently told Grant, who told Wayne who told The Londoner, that he’d been personally told by David Cameron to leave Uber alone”. However, their reasoning was tenuous. “The chat in the cabbies’ rests is that Dave’s good mate is Steve Hilton. And Steve’s trouble-and-strife Rachel Whetstone, also a family friend, happens to be Uber’s newly appointed UK senior vice-president of policy and communications”.
So close, but definitely no cigar. Meanwhile, the Taxi Leaks blog has something rather more significant: “Political organiser and writer Bryn Phillips has made a number of public statements on Twitter regarding political intervention from the Prime Minister and Chancellor in regards to the licensing of Uber London Ltd”, it tells. Phillips has asserted that both Young Dave and his next-door neighbour have been lobbying for Uber.

That’s not just “telling Bozza to lay off”, it’s an accusation of direct lobbying. By the Prime Minister and the Chancellor Of The Exchequer. The post then goes on to note that TfL ignored United Cabbies Group’s offer to share more than 8,000 complaints about Uber with them, before Labour MP Tom Watson intervened - now they welcome a sight of them. Someone at the top of Government needs to make a full and frank disclosure.

Because if they do not, someone else will make the full and frank disclosure for them.


Matt said...

Oh god, please don't you start against Uber. The black cab drivers - many of whom use sat nav, disable their card machines, and refuse to take inconvenient fares - are just trying to protect their closed shop. On just about every level, Uber is superior to black cabs.

cal900 said...

Unless you are gay or disabled or infact care about companies paying tax in this country?

JennyfromStepney said...

1. Black cabs can take wheelchair users and also participate in disabled reduced taridff scheme.
2. it takes at least 2 years to pass the knowledge and this includes a driving test.
3. Black cab drivers have to have CRB clearance
4. Vehicles have an annual inspection which is very thorough and are taken off the road until they pass

JennyfromStepney said...

fine as long as you don't use a wheelchair don't care who is driving or the condition of the car and are happy to let black cabs and mini cabs fade away so you can have a monopoly and charge what you want

Amanda Kendal said...

Hi Matt,

I assume – okay, your name's a teensy weensy bit of a giveaway – that you're not a female of the species, so probably a little lower on the risk list for those who might get abused/raped in an unlicensed cab.

I also assume you do not believe that knowledge and training matters (see 'The Knowledge' v 'fuck, the sat nav doesn't tell me most things'.

I also assume – and JennyfromStepney has already mentioned this – that you do not need disabled access.

Further, I also assume you like Uber's financial backers Goldman Sachs – that's right, the corrupt bastards who cooked the books for the then Greek government in order to allow that country to enter the euro.

And were all that not enough, I assume that you assume that Uber drivers give a good service, while as Tim points out, where have been thousands of complaints against them already.

I live and work in London. I use cabs regularly. I'm not rich, but I wouldn't touch Uber with the proverbial effin' bargepole. For all the reasons cited above – and let's not forget that BoJo has been an utter lying dick over the taxi trade (and other things).

Matt said...


Re disabled, yes fair point. But this could be dealt with by for example forcing Uber to keep a given number of wheelchair-friendly cars on the roads. In itself, the black cab is not the only solution to that issue.

Re taxation, again not an issue that's specific to taxis. Same problem with Amazon. It is fixable if the government want to fix it.

Re CRB clearance and roadworthiness, the same applies to minicabs in general. Again not an Uber-specific problem.

Re monopoly, you cannot seriously argue that the London minicab market, which numbers hundreds if not thousands of individual firms, is susceptible to monopoly practices.

Re the knowledge, as I said, if this is such a wonderful system, how to explain the large numbers of black cab drivers using sat nav?

Meanwhile black cabs are the only cabs that have the right to pick up passengers in the street. And they get special access at transport hubs which - judging by the vast queues of black cabs at Heathrow and Paddington - is the source of the most lucrative fares. And of course they get to use bus lanes, enabling them to pick up more fares per hour than minicabs. Yet all we hear about is the burdensome 'regulation' on the poor black cabbie!

Do I have an axe to grind? Yes I do. I live in west London and was continually frustrated by black cab drivers refusing to take me home from Soho at midnight with a range of poor excuses (such as "I'm just on my way home mate").

Matt said...

Hi Amanda

I can definitely see the appeal of the 'all Uber drivers are potential rapists' argument because nobody is going to put their hand up to 'who wants London cab drivers to rape more?'. Unfortunately for this line, the same applies to all minicabs and so is not an argument against Uber per se.

Uber is one of the world's biggest corporations (by value) right now so I'm not surprised they have some awful bankers in tow. The same is true for Facebook, Microsoft, Google... you name it. Not really an argument against Uber itself.

I use cabs regularly too. My most memorable journey was in a black cab from Heathrow to Hammersmith. On telling the driver my destination, I was treated to a 10 minute tirade about how I should have lied to the guy at the head of the queue and said I was going to Brentford. This would have given my driver a ticket to come back and queue jump. "Don't you know about 'Brentford'?" he kept saying to me, disgusted I was unaware of this popular scam. Clearly, the prospect of a measly £50 fare to Hammersmith was barely worth his time. Hence my scepticism when people like to suggest that black cab drivers are the salt of the earth and lowly Uber drivers are predatory vagabonds.

Anonymous said...

Nobody outside the M25 ghetto could give a solid brass shit if London chokes on its own carbon monoxide poison and extruded bullshit.

In fact it would be a good idea to cut the dump out of Britain, tow it to the Bering Straits and let the Yanks and Russians use it for missile practice.

It's nothing but a rat hole.

john b said...

Uber London drivers are licensed as minicabs, which means that they are CRB checked. The legalisation of minicabs and introduction of licensing requirements in London, brought in by the previous mayor despite the vociferous objections of the black cab cartel, have vastly increased the safety of women travelling in the city.

The black cab was once a useful solution; it's been made obsolete by technology, and their gradual disappearance can only be applauded.

Anonymous said...

Just Google 'uber dirty tricks'. If you want an example, they actually wanted to spend a million dollars to find dirt / discredit a journo who uncovered some of those dirty tricks.

Cabbies are indeed an outdated monopoly, but Uber is pure evil.

SteveB said...

As one from outside the M25 ghetto it staggers me the way London mobility is going.

Driving around the centre is a mad idea.

Buses are now a private members club, no Oyster? you're not coming in!

The Tube is almost as bad, no Oyster, you pay for everyone else.

And now heading down the road of only being able to get a cab if you have a smartphone with an app.

I'm so glad I have no need to go there anymore.

Tim Fenton said...


I keep an Oyster card which I can top-up online. Works pretty well.

Only problem is that you need to specify where you'll pick up the credit, which means it can't be both Euston and Euston Square (for instance).

Chris P said...

I think it's hilarious. Black cab drivers - virulent Thatcherites to a man - have been lecturing the rest of us to get 'on yer bike' for decades. But as soon as the free market bites them on the arse, they're straight off to complain about how unfair it all is.

Why don't they just retrain, diversify, and embrace flexible life-long learning?

Anonymous said...

"But this could be dealt with by for example forcing Uber to keep a given number of wheelchair-friendly cars on the roads"

A number? How many? Anything less than 100% means the disabled have to wait longer than YOU and that is discrimination!

Anonymous said...

"Uber London drivers are licensed as minicabs, which means that they are CRB checked"

"vastly increased the safety of women travelling in the city"
4 words - Google minicab driver raped

Anonymous said...

sadly I suspect many of the black cab drivers who are now at the mercy of global corporations (and their relationships with government) voted to keep Cameron and his close friends in power

Sean Paul Day said...

No one should advocate big off-shore corporations running roughshod over a sovereign nations democracy. It is a dangerous prospect to allow an economic ideology decimate local businesses without a socio-economic safeguard in place.

Whatever you may think of black cabs- and sadly they are in the unenviable position of people disliking taxis by default- they remain the safest form of transport in London.

It must be said also, there is no barrier of entry to study the knowledge, and once gained, they join 24000 individual sole traders who've earned the right to ply for hire. Hence why their are 'hubs' at stations. Notable too, that taxi ranks of paid for out of the drivers license free money.

As much as the anti taxi lobby gripe, in just two short years uber ave been found guilty of fraud, data breach, account hacking, sexual impropriety, and gross misrepresentation. Also, investigative journalism for the Guardian newspaper exposed the falibility of their vetting system by uploading fake insurance that was subsequently accepted by the company. Ask yourself this, if your mother, sister or daughter was travelling back late at night who would you rather then travel with? If Uber, make sure your daughter is over 18 as minors aren't allowed to travel unaccompanied. It is also stated in the terms and conditions that they are not responsible for the driver if he happens to be harmful to minors.

Lose Black Cabs at our peril

Sean Paul Day said...

I suppose you've not yet had your account hacked or your personal details sold on the dark web. It's likely too, that you haven't been injured in an accident, was being driven by an uninsured Uber driver. And I imagine you deem them so safe that you'd be happy to let your daughter or niece use their service, even though their T&C expressly state they are not responsible if the driver is harmful to minors.

If you think 24,000 individual businesses who have earned the right to ply for hiree should be replaced by such an unethical, parasitic, tax avoiding corporation, just wait till they gain market domination. But then maybe you're not old, under eighteen, disabled, blind or gay? In which case you may get away with paying an extortionate amount of money because you're no longer have a choice

Ps. I don't use a satnav as my topographical knowledge of London is far superior. I take credit card payments & contactless payments. I am registered for Apple Pay when it is launched. Oh, I will also allow you to connect to free Wi-Fi during the journey.

You rarely get what you want in life, you get what you are! I'm alright Jack....I mean Matt

Sean Paul Day said...

What are you wasting your time commenting before then?

Sean Paul Day said...

Could you please refer me to your source, that the licensing of minicabs have vastly increased the safety of female passengers? If there was an initial decrease it has long since been offset by the indiscriminate licensing of satellite offices

I should point out also that the licensing of minicabs was paid for by Black cab drivers license fee. How vociferously generous of them

Sean Paul Day said...

I'll consider your point about diversifying, You never know, I might decide I'll do your job. You flexible lifelong learner you!

Sean Paul Day said...

Why would you make that prejudgement?

Unknown said...

This looks very concerning: Uber managers adopting Uebermensch characteristics. It is high time they quit behaving as the infantile entitled brats they are, and start acting like mature adults. Not much hope, though...
John Simon

Sean Paul Day said...

Don't go west, there's the consolation of knowing you weren't charged £5 for not taking you though?

Peterpofi said...

Your article has so much potential to learn from.