I was 9 when my dad came home with his green badge strung around his neck and huge grin of relief on his face. He’d finally passed the Knowledge, a test that requires them to know detailed information about roughly 60,000 roads in London, plus over 100,000 places of interest.
He’d quit his job as a carpet fitter after rheumatoid arthritis started to affect his day-to-day work and spent nearly four (unemployed) years studying to pass one of the world’s hardest exams.
Think of degree, and a full-time job combined into one… that’s the Knowledge. Every day he’d head out on his moped to memories the various routes around London all in the hope of being able to drive one of the world’s most iconic modes of transport.
And he wasn’t the only black cab driver in my life. My late grandad was also one, passing the Knowledge in 1977, and being immensely proud of a trade that is as synonymous with London as red telephone booths.
So yes, I have a vested interest in protecting the black cab trade. But being the daughter and granddaughter of two black drivers isn’t the only reason why I was pleased to hear Transport for London has refused to renew Uber’s private hire license in London.
Finally, the same governing body that puts such strict regulations on black cabs and other private hire vehicles was taking note of what Uber was actually getting away with.
Let’s take a little look back at Uber’s somewhat sordid history since it launched in 2009 – not just in the UK, but around the world.
Let’s start with the fact that so many Uber users have reported their drivers taking bizarre routes either as a mistake – or in the hope of over-charging the customer.
For example, this guy back in February who was charged £467 to go from Brixton to Croydon – but actually ended up in Bristol.
And do you remember former Uber bigwig Travis Kalanick being caught on camera arguing with an Uber driver complained to him about falling fares?
But there are more serious issues that need to be raised regarding the safety of Uber passengers…
According to Broadly, 32 rape or sexual assault claims were made against London Uber drivers alone in the last year (want to point out that I am well aware a black cab driver was jailed in 2015 for attempted rape). And while these crimes are committed by other private hire vehicle drivers in the capital, it was actually Uber’s failure to report and respond to such accusations appropriately that has got the company into trouble with TfL.
But that’s not all, Uber has been sued by Google for stealing its driverless car technology, leased out fire-prone vehicles to drivers in Singapore, had hundreds of Uber drivers delete their accounts using the hashtag #DeleteUber, and have been questioned over their tax avoidance business structure.
And how can we forget the accusations made against the company for surging prices during the terror attack on London Bridge on 3 June?
So let’s face it, the company don’t exactly have the greatest track record.
But let’s also spare a thought for the drivers that are actually employed by the tech company. Yes, as a customer your fares are cheap, but at the cost of someone else’s wages. As Frank Field, Labour MP and chair of the work and pensions committee stated, Uber treats its driver as Victorian-style ‘sweated labour.’
Receiving testimonies from various drivers, the report found that many took home significantly less than the national living wage, with some working more than 70 hours a week just to make ends meet.
And how many of you can honestly say you’ve met an Uber driver that has absolutely loved their job?
And that’s not all. While Londoners are swanning about in their fancy rides, that cost them next to nothing to get, an employment tribunal found that Uber has denied its employers the most basic rights including minimum wage, sick pay and holiday pay. Some were even reported to be earning as little as £4 an hour.
So if you genuinely care about Uber and its future, you should be embracing TfL’s decision to revoke its license. It’s finally the wakeup call the company needs to take responsibility for its questionable company morals, make the safety of its passengers paramount and to ensure its drivers are treated fairly.
And spare a thought for black cabbies. While it’s easy for you to slag off their trade, you need to remember it’s their livelihoods at stake too. Their fares are set by TfL so they have no say in that, they also work long, self-employed hours, and they worked bloody hard to earn their green badge.
Yes, Uber is cheap, but to what cost?