While London’s taxi and private hire trades wait for the appeal from driver and rider matching service Uber to be heard, the PR onslaught has continued. Uber has told anyone who will listen - mostly its cheerleaders at the piss-poor Evening Standard - that it has reformed itself. Gone are the bad old days of modern-day robber baron Travis Kalanick, and in has come a desire to work with laws and regulations, not disregard them.
This sounds most constructive and appealing, until one realises that Uber may have changed the mood music, but nothing else. And that means the whole show is still about an illegal operation. Anyone who has spent time studying the way the Uber app works knows this. But, for those inclined to believe the latest propaganda, a straightforward example of Uber’s legality problem has been provided.
We know the private hire rules: a booking must be accepted by a licensed operator and the details recorded. Only then is a driver allocated the job. Both origin and end point of the journey must be known at time of booking. And a fare is quoted and accepted when the booking is made. Now let’s see how Uber works in practice.
A punter wants to go from Kensington High Street, just east of High Street Ken Underground. The destination is the northern part of Portobello Road. The real time log shows that at exactly the same time the booking is requested - to the second - it is despatched. A driver then accepts - whoops, accepting isn’t down to the driver for private hire - seven seconds later. That’s at least one illegal action.
And that, I would submit, isn’t going to change any time soon. If Uber want to pretend otherwise, then TfL must have a software architect go through the code and insist on the operator demonstrating exactly where the “new” app differs from the “old” one.
On top of that, who is taking the booking? Who is doing the despatching? Sure, doing everything in real time, using suitably powerful servers, you can get a fast turnaround. But zero seconds? No delay at all in taking the booking, recording the details, quoting a fare to the punter, having that accepted, confirming the booking, and getting a driver on to it?
No. Just no. In any case, we know that Uber calculates the fare in real time too - so any quote given before the journey can be invalidated by traffic conditions (for instance). And yes, that too is illegal. So unless that just got sorted, it’s another no-no.
Then, finally, we get down to who takes the booking. Uber London Ltd is the licensed operator. But there is also Uber BV in the Netherlands, which has in the past appeared to take bookings - which, you guessed it, is illegal. Because Uber BV is not a licensed operator. Again, TfL must have it demonstrated to them that the booking is being taken by Uber London Ltd. No satisfactory demonstration, no licence, no argument, game over.
One trip along Kensington Church Street, past Notting Hill, and up the Grove is all you need to show clearly all the areas where Uber operates illegally, and that unless their appeal can show things have changed, they should not be allowed on the capital’s streets.
It’s now down to TfL to do their job - and be prepared to say no.