As the clock ticks down towards the decision by Transport for London as to whether they will renew the operating license for driver and rider matching service Uber - and, if so, for how long - another unfortunate episode has come to light following a Freedom of Information Act request made to TfL recently. This shows that Uber has tried to engage TfL in keeping something quiet - or, as some might say, covering it up.
The correspondence revealed by the FoI request includes an exchange of emails on Wednesday 13th January last year, initiated by Helen Chapman at TfL, and sent to Jo Bertram and Tom Elvidge of Uber. Her concern was that Uber was about to start a new service without telling the regulator - which has happened in the past.
“It has come to our attention that Uber is planning to start offering a food delivery service in London from 15 January 2016 … Can you please confirm whether you intend to operate this service, and if so, please provide TfL with details of how this service will operate in relation to licensed private hire vehicles or drivers before it is launched”. She also cautioned that such a service might not gain Congestion Charge Zone exemption.
Elvidge replied within quarter of an hour. “We have no current plans for such a service. We would very much like to know where this information has come from. Could you please let us know how you ascertained this?” TfL should reveal their sources to Uber? Hmmm.
Ms Chapman was not inclined to tell Uber: “I believe we have received several enquiries about this from individuals but I am not sure where it originally came from … We thought it best to check with you in the first instance so we could ascertain whether there was anything we needed to be aware of. I am pleased you have clarified your position”.
And there, one might have thought, the correspondence would have ended. Except that it did not, and Elvidge’s next email should have set alarm bells ringing.
“It is very interesting that there have been enquiries about something that is untrue - and mentioning such a specific date. I am actually quite concerned that there are multiple requests for information around [a] business model we have no plans to launch. I would really appreciate your support in understanding where this has come from please. Could you forward the emails or share the origins of this?” And there was more.
“May I also ask that you do not share this information with parties externally please? As you can well imagine competitors of ours may be seeking to learn this information, and we would of course prefer that such questions remain unanswered!”
I’ll bet he would. And two things here. One, if Uber want disclosure of correspondence, they can put in an FoI request just like everyone else has to - TfL is not there to show favour to one or other private hire operator. And two, the suggestion that TfL should not respond to legitimate questions is totally out of order.
It gets worse: Uber launched UberEATS in June last year, boasting at the launch that “thousands” of couriers had already signed up. The idea that they knew nothing about that launch in January beggars belief. So that’s brazen deceit to add to the attempt to mess about with Freedom of Information laws. And they want their licence renewing.