The Handbook
The Handbook

You know those adverts for Uber, the ones where the woman leaves the restaurant safe in the knowledge that she knows exactly who her friendly driver is? Turns out that it could literally have been anyone. The taxi company that last year ran an ad campaign entitled ‘Safety Never Stops’ has just been told that it’s not safe, and it has to stop. TFL has suspended Uber’s licence. Again.

Wait a second, different drivers? 

Yeah, it’s bad. So according to TFL, 14,000 Uber journeys in just a few months between 2018 and 2019 were fraudulent, taken with drivers who weren’t the ones advertised on the app.

Woah, so who were they?

Well as you were at your most vulnerable (read near-pass-out drunk) and needing an urgent lift home from a dodgy bit of East London at 2am, it wasn’t Tarquin or Jeremy or whoever the app told you it was coming to meet you. In fact, it could be almost anyone, someone with a criminal record, someone banned from driving or with a foot fetish.

Alright, that’s pretty naughty

You think? It could only be worse for Uber if it came out that Prince Andrew was enrolling onto the Uber drivers’ programme. Apparently drivers who had been dismissed or suspended were still able to create new Uber accounts and drive passengers, with examples given by TFL including one driver who was cautioned for distributing indecent images of children, had his private hire licence revoked and still was able to drive passengers, presumably including children at his leisure and Uber weren’t there protecting its customers.

Agreed, that’s grim. But I do still need those cheap cheap rides

Apart from the question ‘at what costs?’, there are plenty of other options. And it’s worth pointing out that they all have downsides. Waiting for a night bus that may or may not turn up (and may or may not let you board if your card isn’t working) is, of course, fraught with safety worries. Black cabs are haunted by the memory of rapist John Worboys, and the underground is non existent across most of South London. Even other ride-share apps are likely to have similar (or worse) issues to Uber, but simply aren’t as high profile.

Fine, I want to live (or die) a little, I’m happy to take my chances. What happens if I try and book an Uber now?

Oh nothing’s actually changed. You’ll still be able to take a taxi just as usual.

But I thought you said…

Yes, yes, but Uber can now appeal against the decision, and it’ll be up to a court to make the final decision. It’s now out of TFL’s hands but a court aren’t likely to give Uber a free ride (well that makes two of them).

So how long have they got?

It could be quite a while, currently described as ‘weeks to months’, before a magistrate makes a final decision here. Which gives Uber quite a lot of time to get their shizz together.

Have I got deja vu? 

Peut-être. In 2017, TFL also suspended the licence and Uber managed to make some changes and persuade the court to allow it to continue to operate. We wrote about it back then, and we’re basically back in the same place now.

Is it me, or do TFL have it in for Uber?

Well, TFL, the regulator who have banned Uber, also just happen to run a number of its competitors, from licensing Uber’s bete noir (literally), London’s black cabs, to our busses, underground, trams and trains. But even if they might be a teeny bit biased, they’ve uncovered some serious wrongdoing and clearly that needs to be fixed ASAP.

And will they?

Probably. Uber needs London as much as we need it. The firm makes a fortune from the city to the point that their business plan totally relies on Londoners, so it’s likely they’ll make plenty of effort to clean up their act. It’s just a shame they need so much persuading.

So is it ‘call a taxi for Uber’?

No, not quite. We misled you. But not as badly as Uber did. Watch this space…