TfL faces strong backlash over Uber ban

In an extraordinary move on Friday, Transport for London (TfL) announced its intention to strip Uber – the wildly popular ride-hailing app – of its private hire operator license. For the 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million users Uber boasts in London, the decision has been a controversial one.

As of Sunday, more than 600,000 people had signed a petition started by Uber on change.org called “Save Your Uber in London,” unsurprisingly urging TfL to reverse its decision. It is thus-far the fastest growing petition in the UK this year.

While the decision comes as a shock to many, Uber has had a hard time avoiding regulatory scrutiny in many European countries. Its services are either banned or partially suspended in Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Spain, France and Germany – generally due to taxi licensing laws.

Contrastingly, TfL’s decision to ban Uber is an indictment of the company itself, rather than a wider attack on the ride-sharing concept or labour model.

In its Friday announcement, TfL outlined four broad concerns about Uber’s “lack of corporate responsibility” in relation to issues which had potential public safety and security implications — including Uber’s approach to how background checks for drivers are obtained, and how serious criminal offences are reported.

The rationale behind TfL’s decision has been scrutinised by both Uber executives and sections of the public – particularly university students, whose late-night outings have grown heavily reliant on the private transport company.

“One of the strange things around the TfL notice yesterday is they are the ones who do all of the checks and license the drivers,” said Fred Jones, Uber’s UK head of cities. He told the BBC that Uber has been a heavily audited company throughout its five and half years in London, adding: “They’ve carried out the largest audit in their history and we passed with flying colours.”

Tom Elvidge, General Manager of Uber in London, also questioned the grounds for TfL’s security concern, saying “drivers who use Uber are licensed by Transport for London and have been through the same enhanced DBS background checks as black cab drivers.”

Comments posted under London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s public endorsement of the TfL decision on his Facebook page paint a similar picture of dissatisfaction.

One user wrote: “Sadiq, the safety and security of Londoners will be at risk by NOT renewing Uber’s license. We don’t take them because they’re cheaper, we take them because they’re more convenient, and a hell of a lot safer than black cabs.”

According to a DailyMail article posted in July, the number of sexual assault claims against Uber drivers in the year leading to February 2017 was 48.

Mr. Khan wrote in a piece to The Guardian that while he knows the ‘decision will be controversial in some quarters’, ‘providing an innovative service is not as excuse for being unsafe.’

At the same time, a quick scan of TfL’s publically accessible “Bus Crime Statistics” reveals 176 claims of sexual offences reported on London buses in the two months of April – May 2017. These statistics have many people worried that TfL’s decision does more to endanger Londoners than protect them.

Speaking to The Beaver yesterday, an Uber driver named James highlighted the ironic outcome of TfL’s decision, which he said was bound to leave people more dependent on late-night public transport. “I just don’t understand the rationale. Is TfL saying they would rather have people taking buses that drop them 20 minutes from their houses in the middle of the night? Surely this is not the answer,” he said.

Despite promising to be ‘the most pro-business mayor London has ever had,’ Mr. Khan faces criticism for endorsing a TfL decision that could, in effect, leave nearly 40 thousand drivers out of work.

Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, admitted that the company’s tumultuous past – including a string of scandals involving sexism and bullying in the upper echelons of management – have continued to haunt them, saying TfL’s decision was likely the result of Uber’s “bad reputation.”

At the same time, Khosrowshahi underlined the vigor with which they would appeal TfL’s decision. The company will be allowed to continue its service while the appeal is underway.

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