Uber can’t ride this out

Published

Credit: Unsplash / Mark Cruz

Fraser Kerr
Writer

Why Glasgow should follow TFL’s lead and ban Uber

As smartphones all over the country were buzzing with the news that Transport for London (TFL) stripped Uber of its license, a colleague of mine posted on a popular social media channel:

“I agree Uber needs to step up on both the rights of their employees and the safety of their passengers; however, this decision is a big hit to competitive markets and the Londoners who depend on such services as employees and customers.”

This masterclass on how to balance perfectly on a fence does effectively reflect the two sides of the debate. My colleague asks who should take the hit: the market or the safety of users and the rights of workers? Unfortunately, it is not possible to have it both ways and keep our conscience intact. Glasgow should follow the TFL’s decision and ban this irresponsible, administratively lazy business.

When your company is berated in popular culture – as in an episode of Family Guy from 2016 – it’s made blindingly obvious that your reputational status has been impeached. Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, knows this. TFL, however, doesn’t make decisions based on reputation alone. It judges on behaviour, actions and the evidence of Uber’s numerous failures: not reporting serious criminal offences; not maintaining employee records with medical certificates and background checks; the hundreds of drivers who went unpaid in Scotland in November 2016. These are not the failings you would expect from a business with the global reach of Uber. Not to mention the insight from some Uber employees whose working hours are, to put it mildly, reminiscent of a Victorian workday. All of this shows that there is something rotten in this company, and the effects can only have negative consequences in the long run, or ride, for drivers and users alike. Uber’s operational game is an accident waiting to happen.

Glasgow’s local authorities should learn from the TFL’s decision and understand that by tolerating the operations of Uber, their reputation too is on the line. Glasgow risks the safety of its women – already a massive issue in the city – and the safety of Uber employees, who will work hours detrimental to their health and put their passengers at risk by doing so. Frankly, the standards Uber holds itself to would not be tolerated in any other business.

I would propose a temporary ban, so the lamb of a CEO can have a chance to influence the company’s culture, values and standards. Only when and if there has been a substantive improvement in the company’s reputation and visible change in their attitude to standards and rule of law can we consider lifting this ban.

To be sure my mind could not be changed on this I took an Uber – one to the centre of town from the West End and one back – purely to ask the drivers their thoughts on the ban. Both drivers responded similarly to my enquiries – they were keen to emphasise that users of the services loved it as much as the drivers. Significantly, both drivers had no problem with Uber, but then again, I doubt my questions would encourage them to speak against their employer.

Why ban Uber, then? Accepting the dichotomy between the market versus user and driver safety, Glaswegians should ask if Uber deserves its reputation and if so, should we sacrifice our principles for convenience? I would answer absolutely not.