As you may have heard, London has declined to renew Uber’s license for drivers to continue business in London. The reason? Passenger safety risks. Let’s do a quick dive into what happened, why and what it means for Uber drivers in London and potentially elsewhere throughout the world — possibly even the U.S.
What’s the Problem?
Transport for London (TfL) is a government body that is responsible for the transportation system within London, England. It oversees the rail networks as well as trams, buses and taxis — including Uber.
TfL has determined that Uber is unsafe for passengers, citing a “pattern of failures”.
This isn’t the first time that TfL has suspended Uber’s license. It happened in September 2017, and the reason also concerned safety and the company’s approach to handling it. At that time, Uber appealed and the decision was overturned, allowing the business to continue as usual.
Apparently, there was a change within Uber’s identification process that ended up allowing unauthorized drivers to upload their photos in place of existing drivers on those accounts. This allowed people who were not approved through Uber’s process to drive passengers. TfL cited 14,000 trips that were uninsured and carried out by these fake Uber drivers.
They also cited that previously deactivated drivers were able to reactivate their accounts without following the standard procedure for becoming approved to drive once more.
What Happens Next?
At this point, Uber drivers can continue driving in London… for now. Uber has 21 days to file an appeal, which they have already indicated they have every intention of doing. During this appeals process, Uber drivers will be able to drive as normal.
Earlier on Monday, November 25, 2019, the CEO Dara Khosrowashi tweeted:
An appeal would mean that the case will be brought before a judge for determination.
With London being Uber’s largest European market, you can bet that Uber is going to do everything in their power to continue operations within London.
Before TfL made this announcement, Uber had recently rolled out new safety updates available within the app to allow passengers to cite discrimination issues and another one that sends push notifications in the event of a possible accident.
How Will This Affect Drivers?
For the moment, drivers will not be affected. However, if the appeal does not reverse the decision of TfL, then that could be disastrous for the driver market within London.
In the meantime, Uber can even continue to hire new drivers. So, operations are not going to falter until the matter is sorted out, however that ends up.
But, how do drivers in London feel about all this? I found a few forums talking about this and mainly what I found were drivers complaining about Uber not caring about their drivers and low wages forcing drivers to have others use their cars if they want to take a vacation… assuming this other driver would share some of their earnings while the driver was gone.
In a lot of ways, this kind of thinking is what we see all the time in the U.S. as well. You’d be hard pressed to find a driver who is happy with their wages, especially if they drove for Uber back in the “prime” days when pay rates were a lot higher.
Some of the London drivers do say that they prefer having Uber in town versus the “dodgy” minicab companies that were even less safe.
One driver suggested a solution: Add fingerprint touch login to the app to assure the correct driver is logging into the app.
Another driver backed this idea up saying that the technology is there for it and standard on many newer phones anyway.
A big question that may arise from this is if a driver is allowed to add more than one fingerprint (like you can with most phones) the problem may still persist. There would have to be a hard and fast rule for knowing it’s the same driver recording multiple fingerprints. And, as you’ll learn below, Uber isn’t a big fan of fingerprinting drivers.
Could This Happen in the U.S.?
This is a tricky question to answer. And as far as my research went, the answer is not in the same way. Let me explain what I mean by that. Cities in the U.S. are not signing contracts with Uber to operate and Uber is not filing licenses within the cities in the U.S. to provide services. It’s up to Uber and Lyft as companies to decide where and when their services are available.
For example, there was a time when you wouldn’t have been able to find Uber or Lyft in Austin, Texas. They were there for a couple of years, but they both ended up pulling out of the city because of a vote on Proposition 1 that removed a requirement on rideshare companies to gather fingerprints as part of their background checks on their drivers. Uber did not seem to trust that the fingerprint database would be effective enough to use and it would add another layer to the application process, making it more difficult for their drivers to get on the app and working as quickly as possible.
They eventually made their way back into that market, but it was the choice of the company, not the city. The entire state of Texas made a ruling that would not require fingerprint checks for the rideshare companies, allowing Uber and Lyft to operate as they had before.
So, Uber and Lyft have the stronger voice in the U.S. at the moment and can pull out of cities at the drop of a hat. It would be much harder for a city to say “We don’t want Uber here.”
On the RSG Facebook page, we had drivers weighing in on their thoughts on this London challenge and one that stuck out to me was “Since when have they needed permission to operate?” Which, as I stated above, in the U.S., they don’t. But it appears that over in Europe, it’s a different ball game.
Now it’s pretty much a waiting game. Uber needs to file their appeal within the 21 days and then it’ll be in the hands of the court system from there. Since they recently provided safety-related updates to their app in London, it might be enough for a judge to determine that they should be allowed to continue doing business there.
Until then, drivers in London should be considering driving for other rideshare companies in London, including Bolt and Kapten. In addition, it looks like Uber’s rival, the Indian-owned Ola, is moving in on Uber’s territory in London: Ola just announced it will be launching soon in London.
There’s no guarantee this will get overturned. Safety is a concern that both Uber and Lyft have struggled with throughout the duration of their existence. Only time will truly tell.
Readers, what do you think about this news? Do you think fingerprinting for drivers could ever come to the US? What do you think of the safety regulations on drivers, but lack of safety regulations on passengers?
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-Paula @ RSG
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