Police have slammed the ride-sharing app Uber in London for failing to report sexual assaults by its drivers, among other serious crimes, leading Unite to call for an end to Uber’s operating licence in the capital.
In a damning letter obtained by the Sunday Times this week from Inspector Neil Billany, head of the Metropolitan police’s (MPS) taxi and private hire unit, Uber was accused of “deciding what crimes to report” — those that would “be less damaging to [its] reputation” — and failing to tell police about more serious crimes.
The letter, sent to Helen Chapman, head of taxis and private hire at TfL, highlighted several incidents in which Uber failed to report to police.
TfL said Uber’s failure to communicate with police was “totally unacceptable” and would form “part of the consideration” as it decides Uber’s long-term licence renewal in London in September.
Among the most worrying incidents noted in the letter was an alleged sexual assault by an Uber driver early last year. The victim was made to believe that, upon reporting the incident to Uber, the company would go straight to the police. Instead, Uber only spoke to the driver, who denied the offence and continued to work for Uber.
Just months later, the same driver committed a second “more serious” sexual assault against a different passenger, according to Inspector Billany. Again, while Uber didn’t say to the victim that the company would contact the police, the victim said that she was “strongly under the impression” that they would.
“The second offence of the two was more serious in its nature,” Billany wrote in the letter. “Had Uber notified police after the first offence, it would be right to assume that the second would have been prevented.”
Billany noted that the MPS was made aware of six sexual assaults, two public order offences and one assault in 2016 which were first reported to Uber and subsequently reported to TfL but were initially kept from police.
This caused a delay in police being informed from anywhere between a few weeks to seven months. Because of this delay, some cases, like the two public order offences, could not be pursued “despite both having clear evidence of an offence taking place” because a six-month prosecution time limit had passed.
Uber has itself admitted that it reports incidents to TfL as per regulations but it is not a matter of its policy to inform the police. Billany claimed that in one alleged road rage incident involving a driver using pepper spray, which is technically classified as a fire arm, Uber refused to give information to the police unless they submitted a formal request under the Data Protection Act.
Unite’s London Cab Section chair Jim Kelly slammed Uber’s refusal to cooperate with police.
“Their behaviour demonstrates what we have known for some time — that Uber sacrifices passenger safety at the altar of the profit motive,” he said. “Uber is driving this race to the bottom in the private hire market — where the safety of its passengers does not even register as a priority — and it must stop.”
Kelly explained that the incidents highlighted in Billany’s letter also expose a loophole in private hire legislation.
While complaints against black cab drivers are reported straight to TfL, in private hire, the victim or complainant is left to sort out the matter with the operator — in this case Uber — first.
“We at Unite argue that all complaints against private hire drivers should be directed straight to TfL and not to the operator,” Kelly noted. “This is so that all passengers, no matter what mode of transport they take or which company the operator is, are in a position where their safety comes first and complaints are dealt with in a streamlined way.”
Kelly added that the latest news revealing Uber’s failure to protect passengers adds to the reasons why Uber’s licence in London should not be renewed in September.
“From the way it treats its passengers with wanton disregard to the way it sees its workers as expendable robots with virtually no employment rights or protections, Uber has shown itself to be a company that does not deserve to operate on the streets of London,” he said.
“From iconic black cabs to buses and the tube, TfL and its predecessor have a proud history of putting passengers first and we cannot allow this history to be sullied by a company only concerned with the relentless pursuit of profit.
“We at Unite urge the Mayor of London and TfL to not renew Uber’s operating licence when it comes up for review next month.”