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“The real reason we should all be upset about Uber”

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In the week that Uber had its license to operate revoked by Transport for London, pending appeal, stylist.co.uk’s acting editor, Kayleigh Dray, addresses the furore that’s erupted on social media – and reminds us why we should be happy that TfL is cracking down on the ride-hailing app.


It’s official: Uber’s application for a new licence in London has been rejected by Transport for London (TfL) on the basis that the company is not a “fit and proper” private car hire operator. It has 21 days to appeal. And, judging by reactions on Twitter, you’d think it was the end of the world.

“This decision by TfL is nonsensical,” wrote one, “and it smells of black cab protectionism.”

“Took a black cab from Dalston to Bow and it cost £25,” added another, “but an Uber is £9 something.”

There was a veritable outpouring of grief: the people of London are angry that they’re going to have to pay more for their late-night cabs, that they won’t be able to summon a car to them at the click of the button, that they may have to – horror of all horrors – get the night bus or the all-night tube instead.

Yet, underneath it all, bubbles an entirely more disturbing sentiment.

“I know they’re bad, but they’re so cheap and easy,” someone lamented.

Another added pompously: “I’ve never had a problem with an Uber driver – most people that I know haven’t. This is so unfair.”

Still more suggested that the protests of the few had been put above the needs of the many. That thriftiness and convenience were far more important values to uphold than, say, a basic moral code. That their personal bank balance was the true victim of this ongoing Uber issue.

To these people, I have one message: grow the f**k up.


Read more: Is Uber really being banned in London? Here’s everything you need to know


Is Uber “bad”? What’s clear is the company has been synonymous with scandal ever since it first drove onto the London scene. Let’s refresh ourselves on the basics, shall we?

In May 2016, it was revealed that Uber drivers had been accused of 32 rapes and sex attacks on London passengers over the course of 12 months. That’s one assault every 11 days – almost three times a month.

Despite a spokeswoman from Rape Crisis UK informing the company that the “onus is most certainly on them to ensure this doesn’t keep happening”, just a few weeks ago, the Met Police accused the taxi company of allowing a driver who sexually assaulted a passenger to strike again by not reporting the attack, along with a string of other serious crimes.

No, Uber isn’t the only form of transport by which people have been attacked: recent figures show 122 allegations of rape or sexual assault against other London taxi drivers (including minicabs and black cabs). However, Uber’s handling of the situation – especially in its failure to respond appropriately – doesn’t exactly instil confidence that it is rating the safety of its passengers over its reputation.

“Had Uber notified police after the first offence, it would be right to assume that the second would have been prevented,” said Insp Neil Billany, before pointing out that Uber’s policy of logging criminal complaints with TfL instead had prompted “totally unacceptable” delays of up to seven months before they were investigated by officers.

It doesn’t stop there: in December 2016, details emerged of alleged lack of security at Uber which allowed employees to track customers, including ex-girlfriends or spouses. This followed reports that the Uber app collects information on customers’ movements, even after they finish their ride. Even better, the man who was whistle-blowing, Ward Spangenberg, claims he had been fired by the company for raising his concerns.

According to Spangenberg: “The only information, truthfully, that I ever felt was safe inside of Uber is your credit card information. Because it’s not stored by Uber.”


Read more: Uber forced to apologise for sexist ‘Wife Appreciation Day’ message


Overseas, things are little different: Uber was temporarily banned in New Delhi, India after a woman was raped by her driver in 2014. Rather than apologise for the incident, though, executives instead chose to cast doubt upon the victim’s account, even going so far as to suggest it could be part of a conspiracy by rival firm Ola to damage Uber.

Eric Alexander, the president of business for Uber Asia Pacific, reportedly went on to obtain the victim’s medical records in an attempt to disprove her claims. He was asked to leave the company after the claims came to light.

“It is incredible in this day and age that one could even fathom that a legitimate rape victim was part of a conspiracy by a rival firm to harm Uber,” said Douglas Wigdor, the attorney who represented the victim when she sued Uber in the US for negligence and fraud.

“Sadly, these views, coupled with the scrutiny of private medical records, support rape culture and must end,” he added. 

Further underlining the fact that Uber may not be all that hot on women’s rights, a blog post written by its former engineer Susan Fowler detailed a host of ‘abhorrent’ sexist behaviours that had taken place while she had worked there.

Most damning of all her claims was that she had been threatened with a poor performance review for reporting the unwanted sexual advances of her manager – and learned that she was not the only woman in the company to be silenced in this manner. It is owing to this, she says, that the company’s workforce diversity – which Uber does not release details on – has suffered, apparently dropping from a 25% female workforce down to just 6%.

She wrote: “Women were transferring out of the organisation, and those who couldn't transfer were quitting or preparing to quit.”

As a result of her very public accusations, Uber was forced to investigate sexism within the company – and fired a senior executive for failing to disclose a sexual harassment allegation. Predictably, Kalanick issued a statement saying the allegations were “abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in”.


Read more: “Uber’s sexual harassment scandal is a lesson in the power of speaking out”


Still not enough to give you pause?

How about the fact that, in December 2016, the company is said to have activated its ‘price surge’ feature after a bomb exploded in New York? That Uber has allegedly repeatedly refused to cooperate with TfL? That two investigations into the company have led to departures of a number of executives, including the much-criticised CEO Travis Kalanick (currently embroiled in a fraud case with an Uber investor)? That David Bonderman resigned from Uber’s board after apologising for making a sexist joke during an all-staff meeting about reforming the company and combating sexual harassment?

That suspicions Uber values its reputation above all else are only bolstered by its reported use of a tool called Greyball, which apparently allows the company to systematically evade law enforcement in cities where it has violated local laws?


Read more: Women share real-life accounts of being sexually harassed at work


Uber’s list of rumoured scandals, blunders and PR disasters is relentless – and its apparent lack of self-awareness or sense of regret completely unforgivable. So why on earth are so many clamouring to defend it? And why has TfL been painted as the villain in this piece? It was 100% within its rights to strip Uber of its license – and undoubtedly correct when it said the company’s conduct demonstrated a lack of corporate responsibility “which could have potential public safety and security implications”.

Of course, one can’t help but think of the many good, responsible, upstanding, decent drivers – whom are no doubt the majority – potentially being put out of work should the decision be upheld. Yes, they deserve the chance to continue working in a career they love, to earn the money they need at the hours that suit them – but for a company who respects them and treats them like actual human beings. The drivers are also the victims here: Uber has a long history of reportedly murky ethical practices with regard to how it treats its employees and as the current law stands, Uber drivers are most likely not classified as employees at all.

Uber driver

Uber has a long history of murky ethical practices with regard to how it treats its employees

Uber is currently appealing an employment tribunal’s decision that its drivers are workers, rather than self-employed, and therefore entitled to rights such as sick pay. And, while the ride-hailing company claims it’s doing this to maintain the freedom of its drivers, some have complained they earn less than minimum wage on average and miss out when they can't work due to unexpected circumstances. That they aren't being treated fairly. That they deserve more.

Yes, Uber is cheap, fast and convenient. Yes, it makes getting home after a night out far easier. And fine, as with many other issues in this world, you may not have experienced any problems with the company yourself, but countless others have: drivers, employees and customers. They have been abused, mistreated, assaulted, harassed and raped. Their stories have been swept under the carpet.

These are the people who deserve your support, not Uber. And, by clamouring to see the app’s license reinstated, we’re not only dismissing the idea that the company’s treatment of these people is morally reprehensible, we’re also suggesting it is somehow excusable. We are giving it our tacit approval.

It could be time to consider what’s more important to us: cheap cab rides, or ensuring companies stick to safe, properly regulated business practice?

Images: iStock / Ron Jake Roque

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