UBER – the role of the regulator


Even UBER admit that they need to change to meet straightforward and sensible regulatory regimes

Frankly there has been a lot of nonsense talked about the decision of Transport for London (TfL) to not renew the licence of UBER in London. It reveals a widespread ignorance of people about what regulators are for and how they work. It also shows a widespread disdain for people who work in the taxi and private hire industry as the users think that cheapness is all important without considering why the service is so cheap.

Regulators in local government work to a number of nationally agreed regulations. They cover licensing of all types and in a slightly different way planning. All these functions are carried out in a quasi-judicial way. That is, they are, or should be, free from political influence.

The licensing of Hackney Carriages (one that you put your hand up for and call over) and private hire vehicles (which you must pre-book) is carried out for two reasons:

  1. To ensure that the vehicles that carry you around are safe, legal and insured; and
  2. To ensure that the driver is qualified, insured and has no criminal record which might put passengers at risk.

What regulators cannot do is discriminate on any grounds whatever. Whether its UBER or the dodgier firm of Kemp Taxis the regulations are there and should be equally applied to everyone. There is no suggestion from anyone that UBER have been treated differently from anyone else. There does appear to be some evidence, on which TfL acted, that UBER thought that they did not need to comply with the laws and regulations. Interestingly UBER in London now appear to have recognised this hence the headline from the Evening Standard pictured above.

Of particular concern to me is that UBER have in place a system in their computers called ‘greyball’ which would enable them to mislead the regulators. UBER claim that they do not use the system but do not deny that the system is available to them. This probably raises as many questions with you as it does me.

No-one, at any time, in London or elsewhere has objected to the use of APPs by UBER. I don’t use them myself I use a local firm DELTA Taxis who I phone and they come swiftly and have never let me down. I think they have some sort of APP but I prefer the old-fashioned way! But I accept that in a city the size of London where the ‘knowledge’ is more difficult that apps might be helpful in getting cars moving directly and therefore in an environmentally friendly way from place to place. This might also save money.

The other thing raised by people who have objected to the TfL ruling is that UBER are cheap. Perhaps the users ought to consider why the service is cheap. UBER are currently in an Industrial Tribunal dispute about the self-employed status of their drivers. Of course, labour can be cheap if the drivers cannot get paid time off for holidays, maternity/paternity leave and illness. I read that many UBER drivers need to do an 80 hour week to make a living after paying for their vehicle and all overheads. Is this cheapness worth having if it comes at the expense of such apparent exploitation? UBER is, in fact two companies, The App is owned by one part of UBER and the company is based in Belgium. The other bit in the UK is a standard private hire company. Belgium is a place which shelters many companies with advantageous tax breaks. Of course it is possible to be cheap if you have found a legal way of reducing your tax bill. However, we all suffer when we cannot find the money for basic public services.

That to me is one of the key advantages of DELTA and the other local companies. They pay their tax in the UK and wherever their office is. They have a direct interface with their drivers which helps prevent exploitation.

Earlier in the summer I wrote of the need to do more in Liverpool to protect the users of private hire and hackney users. Every week I get a report on the number of people who have been prosecuted for having no driving licence; no hackney or PH licence; not being insured; not having safe, Mot’d vehicles. All this is done by a handful of dedicated staff. In Liverpool as in London there has been a disastrous deregulation of the number of licences available. We need to control the number not to force prices up but to ensure that people can actually make a living from it without massive numbers of hours worked. I don’t want to be driven by someone doing an 80 hour week. It isn’t good for them and it might not be good for me.

So, the problems that UBER faces can be dealt with simply by them. Follow the same regulations as everyone else because they are there for a reason; respect your drivers and pay your taxes. It’s all very simple really.

Meanwhile before you use UBER perhaps you ought to think about why the service is cheap and whether the cost of cheapness is worth ignoring the wider social issues caused by the gig economy.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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2 Responses to UBER – the role of the regulator

  1. Keith Edkins says:

    In the interests of accuracy: the App owner, Uber BV, is based in the Netherlands, not Belgium.

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