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Tuesday 26 March 2019

Uber In London - Out Of Control

Transport for London put some considerable effort into making sure punters got the message about unlicensed minicabs, that message being, more or less, Don’t. So having expended all those resources, one has to wonder why TfL is not paying more attention to the latest, and indeed disturbing, machinations of driver and rider matching service Uber, which suggest that someone is losing control of the operation.
Right now, it is not easy to say with any certainly who is responsible for the current situation, but that TfL getting their fingers out and doing their job as regulators would improve matters considerably. The problems reported to Zelo Street are twofold: one, that someone at Uber considers the company to be above the law (not for the first time, I hear many in the cab trade respond), and two, the potential infiltration of unlicensed drivers.

A recording, made of a call to Uber recently, and made available to Zelo Street, has a caller who is trying to make a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act - in itself a non-trivial process, as Uber is clearly reluctant to give out an email address - then challenging the call handler on the use of the term “Partner Drivers”.

The caller points out that Uber drivers are not “Partner Drivers”, but workers, this having been established in a recent judgment by majority verdict at the Court of Appeal: “Drivers are under a positive obligation to be available for work while the app is on - that they were therefore to be regarded as working during any period when they were within their territory (i.e. London), had the Uber app switched on and were ready and willing to accept trips”.

What say the call handler? “They are partner drivers”. “They’re workers” retorted the caller. “They are independent contractors who are just using the Uber app” restated the call handler. “The court decided that they’re workers” pointed out the caller. Did the call handler not agree with the Court of Appeal? Uber drivers are workers, yes? “I believe not”.
The caller had another go. “You believe that these guys, who won worker rights in the courts, are not workers. Is that correct? You don’t recognise that?” Call handler? “That’s correct”. Had this been A N Other London minicab operation, TfL would have been down on them like the proverbial tonne of bricks. And they would have been right.

So why not do the same with Uber? And it gets worse. One Uber USP is that the punter knows who is picking them up, as the driver is identified to them prior to that pickup. However, and here we discover a potentially deadly however, it has now been put to me that more than one driver can share a password on the Uber app.

Have a think about that. The implication is clear: it’s possible for the punter to see one driver’s details, and another driver to make the pickup. The “other driver” may not even be licensed - and therefore may not have passed any kind of background check.

These incidents keep getting turned up, and keep being reported, yet Uber is allowed to keep on operating in London and elsewhere. It is time for TfL to do its job.
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