While arguments continue as to whether the Uber app means its drivers are (a) effectively plying for hire - which would make the whole operation illegal - and that the app (b) acts as a taxi meter, which would have the same effect, one of the driver and rider matching service’s more enterprising exponents has removed all doubt by getting himself caught bang to rights pretending to be a taxi - and convicted for his trouble.
As Get Surrey has reported, “Ifran Hamid Hussain, 33, appeared at Guildford Magistrates' Court on Wednesday (August 16) where he was found guilty … Hussain was caught in the act on August 28 last year when he parked outside the George Abbot pub in lower High Street to take the council officers for a ride”. The two were council licensing officers, and the journey had not been pre-booked. Oh dear!
Amazingly, though, “Despite the unbooked journey going against the conditions of his licence, Hussain pleaded not guilty when he first appeared in court on March 14 but was later convicted … He was charged with ‘driving a carriage / stand / ply for hire when the carriage was not licensed as a public hackney carriage’ … Hussain, of Honeysuckle Close in Southall, Middlesex, was ordered to pay Guildford Borough Council £1,500 following his conviction … He was also fined a further £250 and ordered to pay a £30 victim surcharge”.
Those reading in London will note Hussain’s Greater London address, and may be nodding sagely to themselves at the proof of yet another slice of enterprising out-of-area working. Meanwhile, though, Uber has had no choice but to throw Hussain under the (as it’s outside London) deregulated bus. And so it came to pass.
Get Surrey once more: “Uber has hit out at drivers flouting the law by picking up passengers on unbooked rides after a man was convicted for ‘illegally plying for hire’ … Following Ifran Hamid Hussain's conviction this week, Uber has slammed illegal pick ups and warned drivers would be barred for any such activity”.
Uber was, for once, as one with the licensing authorities: “Any driver who is found to have accepted a job without a pre-booking will permanently lose access to the Uber app and risks having their private hire licence taken away … We are fully supportive of this enforcement activity and work closely with councils to stamp out illegal activity”. Uber has, as they like to put it, deactivated Hussain. But was he really a lone offender?
Those in the taxi trade who have wised up to the many and varied aspects of Uber drivers’ ways of working may just already be on the case, looking for more of those supposedly isolated incidents of accidentally-on-purpose forgetting to use the app and just happening to behave as if they are real taxis. Somehow I doubt that Ifran Hamid Hussain was the sole practitioner of this art. So expect more of them to be unearthed in due course.
Was Hussain registered as a PHV driver with TfL? And if so, what are they doing about it? I’m sure the people at City Hall will be happy to pony up the answer to that.