Taking a sceptical look at TfL’s Uber ban

It’s 2017, and there’s another motion on Uber to be debated at London region conference. Two years ago the conference voiced its opposition to Transport for London’s (TfL’s) rather overbearing plans for private hire regulation, which ranged from banning the visualisation of nearby cars on a mobile app to mandatory 5 minute minimum waiting times (even if a ride was around the corner). The plans were so out there the head of the Competition and Markets Authority took the unusual step of writing an opinion piece in the Financial Times publicly attacking them for proposing ideas that ‘would artificially restrict competition, and curb developments that benefit the paying passenger’.

This time we’re debating TfL’s decision to ban Uber. It’s a little less clearcut. The facts are that TfL has found Uber’s approach to obtaining driver medical certificates, DBS checks, and reporting serious criminal offences (apparently telling TfL rather than the police in the first instance) wanting. There’s also been an inadequate explanation of whether Uber has ever knowingly blocked TfL officers from accessing the Uber app to perform checks. All potentially quite serious issues.

It’s a shame then that TfL has given Londoners little insight into what their actual concerns with Uber’s ‘approach’ are. What is wrong with the process they are employing? Is this a minor difference or one that could cause a real risk? How did Uber pass 10 TfL inspections prior to this decision? If Uber is flooding London with drivers – and there has been a sharp increase in licensed private hire vehicles – why hasn’t the number of sexual crimes committed in licensed vehicles increased if Uber is dangerous? In the month since the decision there’s been a lot of hyperbole from all sides yet not much information.

The motion to be debated, while demanding Uber negotiates in good faith, simply requests that TfL provide a more compelling explanation to justify a regulatory decision that will leave 40,000 drivers without work and millions of Londoners without a convenient form of transport. It also requests that the impact on the lives of Uber drivers – many of them BaME – and passengers, including users who would have to do without a convenient ride home after a night out, is reviewed to ensure this decision isn’t one that will have widespread negative consequences.

With the facts on Uber and safety far from damning, and even the BBC’s More or Less programme, which critically examines statistics in the public debate, finding that ‘there is no evidence that risk increases when an Uber driver is responsible for your journey’, it’s not too much to ask TfL to justify their decision. It’s not a case of presuming innocence on the part of Uber, but of taking the liberal view that banning a service of immense use to many should be done on the basis of cogent, and publicly available, evidence.

* Alan Muhammed is a Management Consultant, Liberal Reform Co-Chair and sits on London Region & Islington Borough Executives. He is a former Borough Councillor and LDHQ Campaigns Staffer.

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17 Comments

  • Daniel Carr 27th Oct '17 - 4:36pm

    Agree with Alan. For such a big decision there’s been zero transparency from TfL. Uber are of course not saints, but that doesn’t mean the service should just be shut down without any clear explanation!

    So many friends use it to get home at night after drinks or dinner – I have quite large concerns about what banning the most affordable means of getting a ride will do to public safety.

  • Tom Papworth 27th Oct '17 - 4:40pm

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote that “Uber is flooding London with drivers”. This has been hugely beneficial to millions of Londoners (as their frequent and regular use of the service shows) but has challenged the incumbant providers – largely black cab drivers. The black cab drivers are a well organised and highly motivated group and they have done an excellent job in lobbying politicians and feeding the media with scare stories.

    We are right to demand transparency from TfL on this very suspect decision. We should also weigh any harm caused by Uber drivers (and, while very rare, there are always examples of bad practice) against the huge gains from providing cheaper and more convenient journeys to millions – especially those who would otherwise be unable to get a ride and would have to walk long distances, often after dark, thorugh dangerous neighbourhoods.

    If Uber is deliberately flouting the rules they should be forced into line. But we mustn’t give in to a more general opposition to disruption in the taxi market.

  • Andy Briggs 27th Oct '17 - 4:45pm

    Very well put. As a student, affordable travel in the city is hard to find, and Uber has been an exceptionally useful service on more than one occasion, especially late at night when I’m short of cash. Hopefully Uber and TfL come to an agreement ASAP.

  • Daniel Carr 27th Oct '17 - 4:48pm

    Agree Tom. It’s quite telling that this has all happened after the black cabs have stepped up their anti-Uber campaign.

    The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) now even have their PR firm providing the secretariat function to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Taxis. I bet every incumbent would like their PR company to run an APPG on regulating their sector!

  • Lawrence Fullick 27th Oct '17 - 4:54pm

    Cheap travel sounds good but there is a price to pay (no pun). I once rescued a blind BBC journalist (not the prominent political one ) whose BBC booked minicab had dropped him at an infamilar difficult entrance to Waterloo station. In Bournemouth asking a taxi consortium for a taxi sometimes produces a hire car with driver laking knowledge of local geography.

  • Daniel Carr 27th Oct '17 - 4:56pm

    Does Google Maps not work in Bournemouth?

  • A couple of points.

    If people are to quote the BBC More of Less programme I suggest people actually listen to it. It is not the best of journalism, as it fails to examine more recent data.

    And lets ensure what it says in full is reported. One of its observations was that in examining the issue they found Uber to be secretative in their failing to provide information to them.

    To get a more rounded picture of Uber I suggest people take a look at this recent freedom of information. It is worth reading all the correspondence:

    https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/transparency/freedom-of-information/foi-request-detail?referenceId=FOI-0866-1718

  • I suggest people read this FOI request as well. Highly regrettable that the BBC More or Less programme failed to examine this data.

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/private_hire_sexual_assaults_3

  • Daniel Carr 27th Oct '17 - 5:35pm

    Alright, I just listened to the More or Less programme. Seems rather well researched to me. What data did they miss? I usually find Tim Harford pretty good on these issues.

    Should add that they said ‘Uber and TfL have not provided the information we asked’ so they had to go off what data was in the public domain. It’s a shame Uber didn’t respond, but an even bigger shame TfL hasn’t provided the information the programme sought.

    Here is the link for any interested: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05hm6fr

  • Daniel

    Sadly the programme didn’t look at more recent data, that is in fact in the public domain, such as this:

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/private_hire_sexual_assaults_3

  • People attending London region conference tomorrow should perhaps also look at this as well:

    https://www.ft.com/content/7ca2f852-b5b5-11e7-a398-73d59db9e399

  • Simon McGrath 27th Oct '17 - 7:02pm

    @simon – thanks for the link to the FOI request that says there were 48 cases where Uber was mentioned in a sexual crime report from feb 2016-2017. an you give us the figures on how many cases overall there were in taxiss and private hire vechicles -without that the figures are meaningless.

  • Laurence Cox 28th Oct '17 - 7:53pm

    This is an interesting explanation of what Uber have been doing.

    https://www.londonreconnections.com/2017/understanding-uber-not-app/

  • Alan Muhammed Alan Muhammed 28th Oct '17 - 9:22pm

    I’m really pleased that London Lib Dem Conference delegates passed this motion on Uber today, despite Caroline Pidgeon trying to remove a section and the rather strange comments from “Simon” above, you can read the full text here – https://goo.gl/AkvrvC

  • to justify a regulatory decision that will leave 40,000 drivers without work and millions of Londoners without a convenient form of transport.

    How to devalue your own argument in one sentence!

    As Uber keeps saying, all Uber drivers are self-employed; hence all that will happen is that 40,000 drivers will no longer get some of their work via the Uber app. As a member of the public, taxi’s are still available and other ride-hailing apps and services do exist in London.

  • Just in case anyone is returning to this article I hope these recently published statistics are useful:

    https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/safety-and-security/security-on-the-network/tph-related-sexual-offences#on-this-page-0

  • OnceALibDem 22nd Nov '17 - 8:46pm

    I don’t know what the conference decided but it might be something to revisit in the light of Uber’s staggering non-compliance with Data Protection rules

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