Uber, the ride hailing app and pioneer of the so-called sharing economy, recently lost its license to operate in London in a decision taken by TFL (Transport For London) as a result of Uber’s lack of corporate responsibility. Since its inception, Uber has been a particularly scandal mired company with concerns raised globally over sexual assault, sexist corporate culture, driver and passenger safety, inappropriate use of passenger data, disregard for licensing regulation and the illegal procurement of passengers’ medical records in attempts to quash harassment claims. TFL’s specific reasons for cancelling Uber’s license related to: failure to screen drivers properly meaning pretty much anyone can drive an Uber, subsequent failure to report sex attacks by Uber drivers to the Met Police that would have drawn attention to their dodgy practices, the working conditions for their drivers which have been severely scrutinised and perhaps most importantly their use of Greyball software to block law enforcement officers from investigating the working practises of Uber by sending them ‘ghost cars’.
failure to screen drivers properly meaning pretty much anyone can drive an Uber
In short; Uber deserved it. Of course, as soon as the decision (which I think could have come sooner), was taken the anti-innovation bandwagon was rolled out with many claiming that Sadiq Kahn and TFL were out of touch, against entrepreneurial enterprises and were bowing to the cartels of Luddite black cab drivers. This, I would argue, is not the case. Uber operates a business model that does not comply with regulation and until recently used the label of ‘self-employment’ to ensure that their drivers need not receive any employment rights. Before the 2016 ruling that Uber had to pay the national living wage, many drivers reported earning less than that as result of the piecemeal pay system. Uber’s innovation, was an ingenious use of labelling and creation of software to break the rules. They used the guise of new technology as an excuse for neglect and poverty pay. Theirs is a business model that collapses as soon as it is forced to abide by the same rules as other companies.
They used the guise of new technology as an excuse for neglect and poverty pay
The view they wanted to promote was that their new technology was making cab-hailing easier and more efficient so of course prices fell to undercut the old ways, this would have been perfectly acceptable were it true. But, in reality Uber’s competitiveness was simply a race to the bottom, which is why the decision taken is not the wrong one. Disruptive technologies are fantastic and should be promoted, I’m sure people were worried about the impact Henry Ford’s model T would have on the existing automobile industry, but as we know today, it altered it for the common good. However, if the gig economy shows us anything, it’s that we’re lost for ideas because we put profit before investment, and therefore the integrity of the product. Uber’s product could work and comply with the relevant employment and safety standards but, until it shapes up the license loss is the signal that needs to be sent to gig economy big wigs; exploitation is not innovation.
45,000 people worked for Uber in London, and this is troubling for them as they are thrown back into the job market, though they do have time. The firm is allowed to continue to operate in London until they have reached the end of the appeals process, so there is some wiggle room for drivers worried about instability. Here, I think the onus falls on the state. For all their bluster about job creation and near full employment this government does not seem to care that their precious figures conceal the reality that, for many it is gruelling, meaningless work that pays poverty wages. Perhaps if we increased our R and D funding, reduced cuts to education and regulated new technology properly we would not be seeing this development of a precarious underclass with little upward mobility. Although Uber provides people with employment, it is a relationship of all take and no give. The Cambridge English dictionary defines Uber as a prefix to a noun, meaning extremely good or successful. In this regard it is a misnomer, Uber and their tech could be great but in order to do so they must respect their workers, their customers and above all the law.