Jennifer Bowey argues that Uber’s technology makes users feel safer
As of Saturday 30 September, Uber will be stripped of its licence to operate in London after a ruling by Transport for London (TFL). This decision came after claims that the company had not been putting enough emphasis on customer safety or reporting criminal offences and had been exploiting their employees. Uber and loyal users of the app have responded with outrage – people have taken to social media to vent their frustrations and a petition has been launched to challenge the decision. Despite some people positioning themselves strongly on one side or the other of the argument, the question on most people’s minds is this: was this the most progressive decision for TFL to make, and should other authorities follow suit?
A few years ago if somebody mentioned ordering a taxi then the traditional black cab would spring to mind. Apps like Uber and Gett had not yet come into existence and if you wanted a taxi you’d either have to phone up and book one or hail one on the street. Uber, being the market leader in taxi apps, has revolutionised the way people use taxis and city transport in general. Instead of phoning up City Taxis only to be told there’s a half hour wait and that somebody will be with you “as soon as possible”, you now see how long you’ll have to wait instantaneously just by looking at your phone screen. Surge pricing also shows you an estimated price of your journey, so you can decide whether that taxi to class is really necessary. Whether or not you like Uber as a company, one thing’s for sure: it has changed the taxi game irrevocably.
Uber is particularly popular amongst students in Glasgow and I myself have been in my fair share of Ubers and black cabs. I found it surprising that one of the complaints made by Transport for London was that customer safety is not taken seriously because, personally, I have always felt more safe in Ubers than black cabs for numerous reasons. Firstly, you can see the route your driver is taking from point A to point B and where you are on the route at all times. So, if something did make you uncomfortable or worried for your safety at some point, you could send a screenshot to a friend that would contain your whereabouts, the driver’s name and the car’s number plate. Secondly, I have never needed to resort to this because, unlike in black cabs, I have never been made to feel uncomfortable in an Uber taxi. The service has always been good and the driver polite. The worst infraction I can remember from an Uber driver was a bit of speeding which most taxi drivers are guilty of anyway. In black cabs, however, I have had a driver that smelled strongly of weed, I have been in taxis where the drivers have been outright rude to either myself or my friends and once I was in a taxi where the driver suggested I “drop out of uni, marry a football player and become a baby-maker”. Naturally, due to these experiences, I tend to gravitate towards ordering Ubers.
There are other reasons why students in particular have come to rely on this modern service; for example, it means that you don’t need to be carrying cash. I know a lot of people who used to come out of clubs at three in the morning and, if they had run out of cash or if there were not enough taxis at the taxi rank, would decide to walk home alone. Having Uber at your fingertips even when you have no cash helps students avoid a number of potentially dangerous situations.
Obviously, TFL’s concerns cannot be ignored. Uber needs to make some serious changes in order to regain public favour. In my opinion, however, the good outweighs the bad and not renewing Uber’s licence, with the intention of stopping the company from being able to operate in London altogether, was a more ruthless and regressive step than was necessary and one that I hope will not replicated in Glasgow.