Cllr Thomas Bridge is a Conservative councillor for Brentwood.
The debate over the decision of Transport for London to revoke Uber’s licences has broken down – predictably – into two sides. On the one side, defenders of TfL are cheering the idea that a renegade corporation has been brought to heel to the benefit of Londoners who can now travel more safely. On the other, defenders of Uber are criticising the decision of TfL as a protectionist measure inspired by the black cab lobby to the detriment of the millions of Londoners who have used Uber with no issues.
Neither side though has really engaged with the details of the reasons cited by TfL – and one in particular I find particularly worrying, particularly as it has been repeated by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in his response to the change.org petition currently signed by over 750,000 people. The stated reason is Uber’s “approach to how Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are obtained”.
I am a borough councillor in a borough that borders London, and I serve on the planning and licencing committee of that borough. Uber drivers in the borough almost invariably are licensed by TfL and the concerns expressed by TfL also apply to the residents of my borough. (To be clear, there is no legal issue with drivers licensed by TfL doing private hire pickups outside the TfL region). However, the borough policy is that we – not the licenced operators – are responsible for the background vetting of private hire drivers who wish to be licenced in our borough – indeed I have sat on one sub-committee considering if we should award a private hire licence to a driver over something that turned up only as a result of enhanced vetting.
There are therefore two possibilities here.
The first is that TfL are doing the developed vetting background checks. There is therefore no reason for Uber to question the licences granted by TfL: in which case they – and the Mayor – are misleading the public. If this is the case, they need to correct their error and apologise immediately for the misinformation being spread.
The second though is far more concerning – it’s that TfL are awarding licences to drivers without ensuring that the drivers go through the enhanced vetting process. This means that TfL licenced private hire drivers are being held to a lower standard that that operated by the borough, placing residents of my borough at increased risk compared to the drivers where we have control over the vetting process.
Quite frankly, this implies that TfL’s own processes are not fit for purpose, and rather than criticising Uber for not doing the checks, Sadiq Khan should be summoning TfL officials in for an emergency meeting to discuss why they aren’t doing the primary job they’re supposed to be doing – running basic steps to help prevent the wrong people from being granted private hire licences. One assumes that if they aren’t doing this for Uber drivers, they can’t be doing it for the drivers of smaller licenced operators either.
Either way, the statements by both Sadiq Khan and TfL raise as many as questions as they answer. They need to be held accountable either for misleading the public or for putting the public at increased risk by failing to do the basic jobs we should expect a taxi / minicab licensing authority to do.