Back at the beginning of the month, Zelo Street was the first to report the grim news that driver and rider matching service Uber had been the subject of 48 allegations of sexual assault, including rape, had been made against Uber drivers in the year 2016-17. This was a 50% increase on the 32 complaints made during the previous year, the figures being supplied in response to an FoI request made of Transport for London (TfL).
At the time, my information was that Guy Adams of the Daily Mail also had this information, and would be using it in an article to be published the next day, another instalment in the paper’s assault not just on Uber, but the way in which what the Mail described as the “chumocracy” had eased the company’s establishment and growth in London, the playing field not looking at all level to the capital’s black cab drivers.
But article came there none, and it seemed the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre had lost interest in going after Uber. It took the best part of four weeks, and the involvement not of Adams, but Tom Rawstorne, to bring the latest bad news about Uber to the Mail’s readership. “How safe is your Uber? Growing concern as police figures suggest company's drivers are linked to one sex attack in London per week” reads the headline.
The Mail does, though, bring some interesting additions to the known information, including two examples of Uber drivers committing assaults, one of whom was nicked when the woman he tried it on with turned out to be an undercover Police officer. What is also of interest, but tediously predictable, is the Uber excuse note: “these attacks did not take place on a trip booked through our app”. So how did they end up in the cars, then?
Another piece of Uber loophole exploitation has caught the Mail’s eye: “MPs and unions are warning that new drivers are exploiting legislative loopholes to sidestep measures intended to safeguard the public, such as installing CCTV cameras in the back of cabs”. That would be what Uber drivers from out of town are doing in Brighton, which Zelo Street already covered (as well as sleeping in their cars due to being skint).
But what is new, and even more disturbing, is what Steve McNamara of the LTDA has outlined. “Uber drivers often hire the car they work in and have to make £350 to £400 a week before they have earned a penny … Earning £6 or £7 an hour, they have to work four or five days to cover their hire costs, petrol and insurance, so many will go to someone they know and say: ‘You take the car around when I’m not using it’ … That way, they reduce their costs by a third or a half. But it means anyone could be behind the wheel - you never know who is driving the car”. Uber claims it can’t happen.
And the Mail reveals the most telling of statistics for all those critics of black cab drivers. “During 2015, Transport for London recorded 136 reported offences of rape and sexual assault against drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles in the capital … just 28 licensed drivers ended up in court … Of these, only eight have so far been convicted of sexual assault. None of that number was a black cab driver”.
Good to see the Mail on board at last. But not good that TfL still appears unable, or unwilling, to deal with the problem that is Uber. That has to change.