Not for the first time, driver and rider matching service Uber has pulled the wool over most of the press pack’s eyes with a move which turns out to be utterly meaningless. After it became clear that many Uber drivers were working long enough shifts for some of them to fall asleep on the job - and sometimes at the wheel - the company has decreed that none of those drivers can work more than ten hours at a time.
This looks a reasonable move at first - until you look more closely. This is what Uber drivers have been told: “From Tuesday 23 January, after spending up to 10 hours of time ‘on trip’ (from confirming a trip to completing it), the app will notify you that you need to take a 6 hour break. You’ll need to be offline for a full 6 hours before your ‘on trip’ timer is reset”. See the “from confirming a trip to completing it”? Hold that thought.
Quite apart from allowing drivers to bust the limit - “If you are on a trip that puts you over the 10 hour limit, you will be able to continue driving until the trip is completed” - the answer to “What counts towards your 10 hours ‘on trip’ time?” exposes this move for the sham PR fluff that it really is. It’s all about that “confirmation to completion” idea.
This is the revealing answer to that question: “The time that you are ‘on trip’ counts from confirming the trip to completing the trip … If you are online but not with a passenger and not on the way to a pick up, for example waiting for a request or in the airport queue, then this time is not included into your 10 hours of time ‘on trip’”. It does not take much knowledge of Uber drivers’ behaviour around London to see through that.
Uber drivers know where the most lucrative pick-ups happen, and when. They also know that in most of those areas, even being able to pull off the road for a few minutes is next to impossible. Parking in central London without having to pay through the nose or break the law - unless you’re a real taxi with access to real taxi ranks - is non-existent. So Uber drivers keep on the move, around those lucrative parts of town.
That’s why you see them on the Euston Road, hoping to catch someone coming in to Euston, St Pancras or Kings Cross by train. It’s why there are so many of them pootling around Parliament, looking for ideologically suitable MPs, peers and their staff. And why so many Uber cars hang around Theatreland later on at night, on the off-chance of securing a long run out into the suburbs. None of this will count towards that 10 hour cap.
So when Steve McNamara of the LTDA says “This is a toothless cap that still allows Uber's drivers to work over 100 hours a week, and is a PR stunt that will not improve passenger safety”, he is dead right. Because that is what it is. Driving around the area west of Euston station so that they can time it right when the call comes, nip down Drummond Street, on to Melton Street and catch someone off the train is not going to count.
But it’s time behind the wheel, it’s contributing to overall fatigue, and it shows Uber’s grand pronouncement to be nothing more than another cheap stunt to con the gullible reporters and pundits who still think the sun shines out of Uber’s backside.
The time for Uber to take safety seriously has not yet arrived. That’s not good enough.