I'm A London Uber Driver, And I Don't Know How I'll Provide For My Family Without It

TfL has announced it will not grant Uber a new license over safety concerns. What does that mean for 45,000 drivers in London?

“I have five children, and am the only on in my family who works. If Uber have to leave London, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Muhumed Ali, 48, from east London, has been an Uber driver for four-and-a-half years. He said Monday’s news that Transport For London (TfL) had denied Uber’s license in the capital had left him “devastated”.

“We were all shocked, you know,” he said. “Nobody wants to hear that their job, their only income, could be taken away.

“It feels like nobody is listening to the drivers – the honest people who are working really hard to make a living.

“It’s not perfect, but driving like this means I can work around my family. I really don’t know what I will do if I can’t any more.”

The ride-hailing company, which employs 45,000 drivers in London alone, was told on Monday morning by TfL that it would not be granted a new operator’s license over safety fears.

A spokesperson for TfL said the authority was not confident Uber would not breach standards in the future, after major issues were found during the reapplication process for a new license.

TfL said on Monday that Uber's license would not be renewed.
TfL said on Monday that Uber's license would not be renewed.
NORRIE3699 via Getty Images

Among these was the revelation that a change to Uber’s system meant unauthorised drivers could upload their photos to other Uber drivers’ accounts, which allowed them to pick up passengers under false names.

This occurred in at least 14,000 trips, which meant the journeys were uninsured and unlicensed, and put passenger safety at risk. TfL said one of these cases involved a former driver whose license had been revoked after receiving a caution for distributing indecent images of children.

Uber’s regional general manager for northern and eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood, called TfL’s decision “extraordinary and wrong”, stating that the business had “fundamentally changed” in order to meet safety standards and pointing out that the London authority had found the company to be a “fit and proper authority just two months ago.

The minicab app now has 21 days to appeal the decision, and can continue to operate in the meantime.

“We can’t go back to our old companies – there’s nothing left to go back to.”

A spokesperson for TfL told HuffPost UK that Uber’s drivers could get jobs elsewhere, and said companies such as Kapten, France’s biggest app-based ride service, had licenses, whilst Ola – India’s biggest equivalent – had recently been granted permission to operate in the UK capital.

“There are other mini-cab companies like Uber, but they are so small in comparison that thousands of drivers are going to struggle to find new jobs,” Muhumed said.

“Perhaps in time everyone would be able to find somewhere new, but that will take time and meanwhile nobody would be getting paid. It would make things very difficult for us.

“I used to work for a local mini-cab service, but most of them are bankrupt now because Uber took away all the demand. We can’t go back to our old companies – there’s nothing left to go back to.”

Many of Uber’s drivers are conflicted by the situation, Muhumed says. Many drivers are aware of serious issues with safety and claim the financial benefits are dwindling all the time, but simultaneously rely on the company as their only source of income.

“When I started it was enough to drive for 25 to 30 hours a week,” he explained, “but now I have to do at least 40 a week and the first 30 only just cover the costs of driving. They are charging less and less all the time.

“Uber treats us like slaves, but at the moment I don’t feel like I have any other choice. I am lucky because I own my car – if we lose our jobs then there are lots of drivers who will struggle to meet their lease payments.

“I was going to start thinking about buying a new one, but what’s the point? The appeal will take a long time, but everything is uncertain.”

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) described the ruling as a “hammer blow” to drivers.

“Many will now face the distress of facing not only unemployment but also crippling debt as they struggle to meet car lease payments,” said James Farrar, who chairs the union’s united private hire drivers branch.

“The terrible price of Transport for London’s inability to run a stable regulatory regime and Uber’s refusal to play by the rules will be paid for by the most vulnerable workforce in London,” he added.

“We are asking for an urgent meeting with the mayor to discuss what mitigation plan can now be put in place to protect Uber drivers.”

Uber driver Abdurzak Hadi
Uber driver Abdurzak Hadi
Abdurzak Hadi

Not every Uber driver is so concerned about TfL’s decision. Abdurzak Hadi, 42, from north west London, said the news was met with “laughter” by some drivers and said he was confident Uber’s appeal would be successful.

“I know as well as I know the back of my own hands that Uber will be allowed to stay in London,” he said. “Whether it’s the magistrates’ court or the high court, a company with 45,000 employees won’t just disappear.

“If the worst happened, I would join another company – they all work in the same way. Perhaps it would even be better because Uber would have less control.

“I do feel that, as much as Uber have failed, TfL have failed too. There should have been stricter rules from the beginning, and then these issues wouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

Although optimistic about the future of Uber in London, Hadi said some drivers employed by the company had felt “abandoned”, and had simply received a message in the app to let them know their jobs could be at stake.

The message Uber drivers received on Monday morning.
The message Uber drivers received on Monday morning.
Abdurzak Hadi/Uber

“I would say we’ve had zero support – nothing,” he said. “Uber, TfL – nobody has come to us, nobody has asked us what we think or how it will affect us.

“We want things to be safe for the sake of riders and drivers, and more needs to be done. As drivers, we have been saying these things for a long time.

“Nobody has listened. Tens of thousands of people could lose their jobs, but they just don’t care about minicab drivers.”

Uber have been approached by HuffPost UK for further comment.


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