By Sara Spary
Few companies are as divisive as Uber. The taxi and ride-sharing app has batted away scandal after scandal since it was founded in in 2009 – from a huge data breach and accusations of drivers committing sexual offences, to criticism over how it has disrupted the traditional taxi industry.
One issue that refuses to go away centres on how Uber contracts and pays the drivers who work for the company, and who have made its meteoric rise possible. Today, at 1pm, some drivers will stage a 24-hour strike.
They are protesting what they claim is unfair pay and conditions. But for all that is bubbling to the surface, the fact remains: consumers like Uber. It’s quick, it’s efficient and it’s cheap.
Here are some things you might want to consider before you tap the app.
Is my driver being paid a fair wage for my ride?
With this one, it depends who you ask. Ask Uber, and they’ll say their workers are paid an average of £11 an hour, after accounting for all of their costs and Uber’s service fee.
If you ask The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) union, which is organising Tuesday’s strike, then the answer is a resounding “no”.
The IWGB want to see an increase in fares to £2 per mile (currently £1.25 in London) and a 10 per cent reduction in commissions paid by drivers to Uber (currently 25 percent for UberX). It says Uber’s calculations of earnings fail to take into account time spent waiting without a passenger.
Central to this dispute is the fact that Uber has been locked in a battle for years in the UK about how it classifies its drivers under UK employment law.
It’s a bit complicated – but essentially, Uber classifies its drivers as self-employed, which means they have no entitlement to the minimum wage, holiday pay or basic protections from the company.
Unions, meanwhile, have long argued that because drivers work solely for Uber they are in fact “workers” – a different categorisation of driver under the law, which would mean they are entitled to those rights.
A tribunal last year agreed but Uber is appealing that decision at a hearing later this month, which the IWGB claims is essentially a move to delay drivers getting access to rights that they claim under law they are entitled to.
Am I safe in my Uber?
In 2017, Transport for London (TFL) revoked Uber’s license to operate in the capital (Uber won an appeal for a temporary license which is why it’s still operating). It said Uber was “not fit and proper” to operate and cited concerns over “a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”
There have been concerns over passenger safety globally and in the UK. British Police charged 25 minicab drivers for sexual offences in 2016, according to TFL figures, and more than half of them – 13 – worked for Uber.
But when TFL revoked the licence, Uber found an unlikely ally in women, who said they felt far safer in an Uber than in a minicab or London black cab because a passenger can share their location with a friend, making the journey more trackable.
There have also been concerns over the number of hours Uber drivers can work in a row. In a bid to combat this issue, Uber implemented a cap for drivers in January – meaning a driver must take a six-hour break after he or she racks up 10 hours driving.
Am I contributing to the demise of traditional taxis?
Unfortunately yes, you probably are. Ever since Uber launched in the UK in London in 2012, traditional taxi drivers have complained of being undercut by the company – which offers lower fares.
They say their livelihoods have been damaged by Uber. Drivers of London black cabs – known as Hackney carriages, have been particularly vocal. Whereas black cab drivers have to pass tough exams known as “the knowledge” to show they can memorise every route in London, Uber drivers use sat nav. Black cab drivers claim that Uber drivers are unprofessional and have lowered standards in the industry.
Does my ride have any impact on the environment?
If you live in London, Uber claims sometimes that it’s cheaper to jump in an Uber than hop on an underground train. The capital city has pollution levels so bad they exceed the legal limits set by the EU Air Quality Standards.
Cars are an obvious contributor to this situation (though, if you’re a regular Uber customer you’ll know a large volume of drivers use a Toyota Prius, which is a hybrid electric car and therefore has less environmental impact than your regular petrol or diesel-chugging vehicle).
If you’re close enough to use a more efficient method of travel but just use Uber because it’s quick and easy, getting a bus, walking, or cycling might be better for the environment and maybe even your wallet in the long run.