While driver and rider matching service Uber continues to operate in London, and elsewhere in the UK, those in the taxi and private hire trade who have spent their working lives playing by the rules - as in obeying the law and complying with regulation - are becoming ever more frustrated that newcomers are managing to do otherwise - and with Transport for London thus far not lifting a finger to stop them.
The latest inducement of collective head-shaking at Uber’s ability to open the driver’s window, but only for the purposes of chucking the rule book out of it, has come in response to a relatively new service called UberPOOL. Here, the rider may be joined during the journey by others, the idea being that this POOLs the resource.
So how does the fare get worked out when one participates in UberPOOL? Ah well. That is where a whole new can of worms is opened up. Here’s what the blurb says.
“Pool: in consideration for the provision of the Pool option, you agree that the service fee you pay to Uber BV may vary on a per fare basis based on Uber BV’s success in finding additional riders to share in all or part of a ride (“POOL service fee”). The variable POOL service fee will be calculated as a percentage of the Pool fare in question and will take into account the efficiency and compatibility of the additional rider’s anticipated route as part of the ride. Uber BV will calculate the Pool fare and the Pool service fee associated with each ride and will display it to you in the driver app”. Well, well.
Uber BV. That’s the entity registered in the Netherlands - for tax purposes. The glaring problem with this arrangement is that, as a private hire operator, Uber London Ltd is supposed to deal with the bookings. That’s what the law says. Also in the “highly problematic” category is the statement “After a ride you can instruct us to charge the rider a lower fare at your discretion”. That’s not allowed. Not if this is a private hire operation.
So perhaps the driver is now the Principal? As one experienced cabbie asked, “If Uber drivers are the principal & entering into contracts with passengers directly then why can't the drivers give the passenger a higher fare estimate than what Uber suggest?” Why not indeed. And if they are the Principal, there is another glaring problem.
As Cabvision Taxi has summarised, “If Uber drivers are [the] Principal then they should only be accepting booking at their licensed premises and hold an Ops License [they don’t, of course]. Uber’s business model is done here, they either have VAT liability, Employment Liability or the drivers are all operating illegally - @TfL which one is it?”
The problem is that Uber being allowed into the private hire marketplace in London was very much a political decision, and the individual waving it all through was formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who shamelessly courted the cab trace before screwing it over. Now someone else has to clear up the mess.
But all the while, more and more rules are being broken, and once the Uber genie is out of the bottle, it is not going to go back in of its own accord. Meanwhile, the lousy safety record, ineffective driver checks and needless congestion continue.
Will TfL eventually act? Don’t hold your breath.
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