Five major concerns York councillors must address before renewing Uber’s licence

An Uber car parked on College Street, York. This one was licensed in Nottingham. Photograph: YorkMix
11 Dec 2017 @ 8.13 pm
| Politics, Transport

City leaders are about to decide whether Uber should have its licence renewed in York.

The current licence of the taxi-hailing app service runs out on December 23.

Members of City of York Council’s gambling, licensing & regulatory committee meet on Tuesday (December 12) to decide if Uber ‘is a fit and proper person to hold an operator’s licence’.

As councillors go in to this meeting they will be met by a demonstration by York taxi drivers.

They have raised many serious issues about Uber’s operations in the city. And the service has been a regular source of controversy since it arrived 16 months ago.

So are Uber ‘fit and proper’ to operate in York? Here are some of the major concerns…

Drivers from outside the city

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A report to councillors reveals there have been 296 complaints relating to hackney carriage and private hire vehicles since Uber’s operator licence was renewed a year ago.

Of these complaints 155 relate to Uber drivers or vehicles.

And the vast majority of these complaints – 129 – are about drivers or vehicles licensed by authorities outside York.

This means York council “is limited to the action it can take depending upon the nature of the complaint”.

No proper presence in the city

Tower Court, Clifton Moor. Photograph © Google Street View

To be a licensed operator, Uber must have an office in the city.

But according to Mike Palmer, secretary of the York Private Hire Association, there is little evidence of anyone working in their registered office at Tower Court, Clifton Moor.

In a letter to committee members he wrote:

My best information says that it isn’t possible to pin down any employee of Uber Britannia and say they are responsible for the actions of their drivers; that the corporation runs from an empty office in York and employs (according to a recent judicial ruling) a handful of drivers in our city.

Road safety

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Because many of the drivers aren’t from York, they are not familiar with the road restrictions in the city.

On more than one occasion they have been filmed going the wrong way down a one way street. And they are said to widely flout the rule against them picking up fares that weren’t pre-booked.

“We’ve caught many vehicles picking up illegally,” said Richard Newby, a taxi driver in York for 18 years.

“Every weekend they’re on taxi ranks. Every week we see them going down the one-way streets the wrong way.

“Yet Uber take no responsibility for their drivers. And the majority of the time they don’t know who is coming into this city from where.”

Passenger safety

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Uber say that all their registered drivers have passed DBS checks.

But York taxi drivers say there is a risk of having unknown Uber drivers from elsewhere picking up fares in York.

In London, where Uber has lost its licence, the Metropolitan Police investigated 32 drivers for rape or sexual assault of a passenger between May 2015 and May 2016.

Fairness to York drivers

An Uber car and a York taxi pass each other in the city centre. Photograph: Richard McDougall

Because out-of-town Uber drivers don’t have to abide by the same rules as York private hire and hackney carriage drivers, they don’t have the same expenses.

And they don’t turn up on a wet Tuesday afternoon – but tend to pile into town en masse at busy times, like a race day or Saturday night.

“York drivers aren’t afraid of competition – they’re just asking for a level playing field,” Alan Rowley, a taxi driver in York for 20 years, told YorkMix.

“All the drivers that are licensed by this council are also known by this council and have gone through the same strict licensing processes that are put in place to protect the public.”