The weekend’s papers revealed that a top Metropolitan police officer is worried over working practices at Uber. The reports come at a very sensitive time for the American firm, with the renewal of their operating licence currently under consideration by TfL.
In internal emails obtained by The Sunday Times, Inspector Neil Billany, Head of the Metropolitan police’s taxi and private hire unit, said he had “concerns with Uber as an operator.” Billany is said to be Britain’s most senior police officer dealing with taxis.
According to his unit’s records, 62% of all alleged private hire driving offences over the previous month in London involved Uber drivers. Billany wrote that “many” of the alleged offences were directly in relation “to road safety”, including: causing death by dangerous driving, careless driving, drink-driving, driving without insurance and speeding.
The emails were written by Billany on July 7th. He claims that a “disconnect” exists between Uber “taking responsibility for their drivers, their driving standards and the condition of their vehicles”. From May 1st to July 16th, just over half of all private hire road traffic offences were committed by Uber drivers. Around 40,000 London licensed private hire drivers work for the company, which accounts for 34% of the 117,000 total.
Steve Garelick, of the GMB union, supported Billany’s stance:
“We have been voicing concerns for a long time about Uber and this proves we were right to do so.”
Garelick and other trade representatives have called on Transport for London to impose new safety and driver protection practices as conditions for any long-term renewal of the licence. The implication being that low pay and long, unrestricted working hours are leading to erratic behaviour behind the wheel.
The reveal comes the week after The Sunday Times published earlier damning correspondence written by Inspector Neil Billany. In a letter to the Head of Taxi Licensing at TfL, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act Billany expressed concerns over Uber’s policy on reporting sexual offences. He accused Uber of putting the public at risk by failing to notify the Met of sex attacks and other “serious crimes” committed by its drivers against passengers.
The officer highlighted an alleged incident that is said to have taken place in January 2016. A woman reported a sexual assault by a driver to Uber. The driver denied the accusation and Uber subsequently allowed him to continue working. In May 2016 the driver was accused of a second offence that was reported by Uber to TfL, who alerted police.
Mr Billany said:
“Had Uber notified police after the first offence, it would be right to assume that the second would have been prevented.”
The officer went to explain that his concerns were:
“Twofold. Firstly, it seems they are deciding what to report (less serious matters/less damaging to reputation over serious offences). And secondly, by not reporting to police promptly, they are allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public.”
In 2016, there were an additional six allegations against Uber drivers of sexual assaults, two further public order offences and an assault. The police were informed of these by TfL rather than the taxi firm.
Tom Elvidge, General Manager at Uber London, said:
“We are in ongoing discussions with the police about how best to support them and continue to help with investigations, where relevant providing vital GPS information and other data recorded by the Uber system.”
Whether that will be enough to convince TfL of the merits of their licence application remains to be seen. It appears that the short term licence renewal issued in May was not purely down to the ongoing consultation on licence fees. Many in the industry had presumed that once the new costs are determined, their new licence would be granted, despite protests from the taxi trade and private hire organisations.
However, the regulator said that the police’s complaints were a key element of the review of Uber’s long term licence renewal. Peter Blake, of TfL said:
“We take any concerns about the reporting of sexual and violent incidents extremely seriously. Any delay in reporting serious crimes is totally unacceptable and we have been in contact with the operator to ask them to respond to these concerns.”
London is Uber’s biggest European market. A failure to secure a new licence would be another signification blow to the company that is still without a CEO following the resignation of Travis Kalanick over 2 months ago. Kalanick, Uber’s founder, is being sued by the firm’s main investors Benchmark Capital, after being accused of issuing misstatements and fraudulent concealment.