For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to rewind back to January of this year, when I’d just landed at Heathrow Airport for my study abroad semester in London. Prior to the flight, I had looked up ways to get to my home for the next four months in the least expensive yet comfortable means of transport. Taking the Tube would be easy on my wallet, but extremely taxing since I would have to lug around a 50-pound bag whilst fighting off the effects of severe jetlag.
On the other hand, taking one of London’s famous black cabs would cause a severe dent in my bank account. I found that Uber serviced the airports at a very reasonable cost, and at the same luxury point as taking a black cab. Had it not been for my phone dying at the worst possible time, I would’ve taken an Uber, but unfortunately, I had to shell out close to 80 pounds for my 25-minute ride into the city in a traditional black cab. On that day, I pledged to make up for this expenditure by seeking out cheaper forms of transportation during my stint in London. While I usually took the Tube, Uber played a major role in my semester abroad, which is why I was surprised to find that the company is now banned in London. Its license will officially expire on Sept. 30.
On a personal level, Uber has been a trustworthy alternative to taxis. I’ve been pleased with the app and its service (save for surge pricing) in Boston, London, Singapore and Mumbai. On a corporate level, however, Transport for London found the company’s “lack of corporate responsibility” abysmal. Where does this judgment stem from? TfL identified four major issues with Uber’s operations in the city. The company has failed to accurately address serious criminal offenses and conduct regular criminal record checks on all of its drivers. Furthermore, the company identifies all its drivers as self-employed and uses this term to justify not paying them a minimum wage. As with other cities, the local black cabs have raised issues with Uber stealing their business. Finally, Uber used Greyball to gain information on its passengers and weed out anyone who could be related to the local government. This data was used to prevent any drivers from serving these customers if they requested a ride on the app.
All of the issues raised by TfL are completely valid.
In fact, they make me question my past loyalty to the company. However, I also understand Uber’s retaliation that such a harsh decision would adversely affect its 40,000 licensed drivers and also impact the 3.5 million daily users of the app. Not having Uber around in London during my study abroad program would result in a personal trade-off. I could either use the Tube and face a longer journey time, or I would have to suck it up and use the local taxi service at a high cost. Uber has been useful for the city of London, and if the company guarantees to resolve all of its pressing issues, perhaps TfL may change its mind. In any case, this incident preaches the importance of consumers being more aware of the activities of the companies and brands that they use on a daily basis.