All those who were willing to cheer for driver and rider matching service Uber two or three years ago have been so silent of late that they are barely audible. Why that should be is not difficult to discern: the company is shipping billions of Dollars a year with little prospect of breaking even any time soon, its treatment of drivers has brought forthright criticism, and every decision from the courts seems to be going against it.
There is even talk that we may have reached “Peak Uber”, with the clear inference that all will be downhill from here. And after London’s new Mayor Sadiq Khan decided to tighten up the regulation of private hire operators - that includes Uber - the regulatory screw began to turn. Worse for Travis Kalanick and his pals, the Daily Mail has taken aim at some of Uber’s lobbying relationships. And the Mail isn’t finished yet.
On top of that has come the news from Brighton and Hove that Uber has been encouraging out of town drivers, who are licensed with authorities that have lesser passenger safety standards - Brighton and Hove prides itself on having all taxi and private hire vehicles fitted with CCTV - to work in the area. Those coming to the seaside from out of town are also showing Uber up for its meanness towards drivers.
So videos have been posted showing Uber drivers, typically licensed by Transport for London, asleep in their cars at locations across Brighton and Hove. Think about that. They are so skint that they have to sleep in their cars. This is not an isolated occurrence: the local taxi trade has caught several of them (see HERE and HERE). Even with all the billions pumped into Uber, its drivers can’t make a decent living.
But now has come the biggest blow of all: the advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has dismissed the idea that Uber is only a technology company, with its drivers unable to claim employee status. As the BBC has reported, “Uber is a transport firm that requires a licence to operate, a senior member of European Union's top court has said … If the ruling is enforced across Europe, it might mean Uber has to operate under the same conditions and safety rules as established taxi firms”.
“[Maciej Szpunar] … said that although Uber was ‘innovative’, the way it operated still fell within the realm of transport rather than information services … Uber was not merely a middleman, he said, but was essential to the way the … system worked …’Uber can thus be required to obtain the necessary licences and authorisations under national law’”.
And while the Beeb continued “The decision is not binding, but in the past judges ruling on cases before the court have generally followed the advocate's lead … For Uber, the decision might mean it has to take more care of its drivers and ensure they are properly trained”, the Uber response was as predictable as ever.
The decision would “undermine the much needed reform of outdated laws which prevent millions of Europeans from accessing a reliable ride at the tap of a button”. But if it were only about technology, there would be no need for the gangmaster-like presence setting rates, removing dissenters, and creaming off its commission.
And I have worse news for Uber: the Mail is going to hit the company again this weekend. The Uber revolution may have been for a time, but not for all time.