Print Edition - 2017-09-27  |  The Guardian

I’m glad it’s all over for Uber in London

  • Being a driver was enjoyable before the company slashed fares, forcing us to work longer hours

Sep 27, 2017-

I’ve been an Uber driver for five years, so you’d expect me to be furious that Transport for London wants to stop the company operating in the capital. Not a bit of it.

I could not be happier with TFL’s ruling that Uber is not a “fit and proper” private car hire operator.

In the long run, drivers like me can only benefit. Yes, we’ll have to find other work, but the best of us won’t find that too hard as rival firms pick up the slack. Many of us have worked for minicab companies in the past, or still do shifts for them alongside work for Uber.

Uber’s model is perfect for customers, who have the convenience of being able to use an app to order a cab while still at home or sitting in a restaurant. Journeys are so cheap that if you’re travelling as a group you’ll sometimes save money by taking an Uber rather than a bus. What customers don’t understand is that we drivers have to work extremely long hours just to cover our overheads—which can lead to accidents as we become fatigued. Because we are self-employed, we don’t get holiday or sick pay. Every hour that we are off the road, we are not making money.

I enjoyed Uber’s early years, not least because I could work the hours I wanted. This was not possible with local minicab firms. And at first you could make a good living. But then Uber slashed prices to attract customers, and began recruiting on a massive scale to keep up with demand. Not only did we end up with more drivers working longer hours, for worse pay, but some of those drivers should never have been behind the wheel.

Just a month ago, the Metropolitan police accused Uber of failing to report sexual assaults by its drivers. As for the level of English … I have gone to Uber’s offices a few times and seen drivers signing up to work with translators beside them.

Uber’s strategy was always to dominate the London market by undercutting competitors, such as black cabs, Addison Lee and smaller local operators. Its overheads were low, as it was not paying VAT in the UK, and did not have a call centre. Backers including Goldman Sachs, BlackRock and other multibillion-dollar companies were happy for it to lose money in the short term, knowing that once it had crushed the competition it would be able to jack up its prices. After all, where else could customers turn?

That plan is now in tatters, unless Uber manages to overturn TfL’s decision.

I know there will be a backlash from customers who love Uber, but if they knew the truth about it they would think otherwise. How can you, as a customer, justify those expensive drinks you had in the bar but not be willing to pay a little extra to get home in the safety of a minicab or black cab?

Published: 27-09-2017 09:35

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