Uber, the popular ride hiring app which has revolutionised public transport and the ride-hailing service, has been under intense fire in the City of London. One of its drivers, Temur Shah, 45, was convicted of sexually assaulting a passenger. He is due to be sentenced on 12 November and is currently on bail.
Shah picked up a female passenger in London’s West End in the early hours of January 15, 2018, and then proceeded to grope her before eventually dropping her home.
His conviction comes at an incredibly challenging time for Uber. The company had its license to operate temporarily suspended in 2017, by Transport for London (TFL), over passenger safety concerns. After which it won a 15-month license following a court battle. It was then granted a temporary 2-month license by TFL, due to be renewed on 24 November which happens to be right after Shah is to be sentenced. TFL had told Uber that the license would only be renewed if they met strict new conditions on passenger safety. The chances renewal will undoubtedly be affected by Shah’s case.
Shah’s actions seem to validate concerns raised by TFL in 2017 about Uber’s disregard for passenger safety. TFL cancelling Uber’s license in the first place was to do with genuine issues regarding customer security and comfort. The company’s failure to ensure that inoffensive and professional drivers are exclusively hired is severely damaging to its case and gives further ammo to the TFL.
Mandy McGregor, head of Transport, Policing and Community Safety at TFL, said she expected “the highest standards” from London taxi drivers and described Shah’s actions as “disgusting.”
The TFL has revoked Shah’s private hire license, preventing him from working as a cab driver in the city again. The TFL’s job is to ensure that transport services in London maintain certain standards of customer safety; concerns about driver background checks had been one of the factors leading to it cancelling Uber’s license in 2017. All of these, it appears, have come back to haunt it in light of Shah’s actions.
Ride hire services like Uber rely on their drivers to provide excellent customer service, so Shah’s case indisputably damages Uber’s reputation in this regard and further fuels the public’s distrust for such ride-hailing apps. Uber has banned him from using the app and he will no longer work for them, but many would argue that this is too little too late.
Shah’s case indisputably damages Uber’s reputation in this regard and further fuels the public’s distrust for such ride-hailing apps
Uber being granted a 2-month license is one of the shortest it could possibly be given; the TFL could have given it a license of up to 5 years during which they could improve their operations and address the concerns raised by the TFL. Rivals of Uber have claimed that this short license shows how the TFL does not approve of Uber, building upon its previous outwards disapproval of Uber’s workings.
TFL itself has come under scrutiny from taxi driver associations and unions in London, who have always been vehemently opposed to Uber, for being too lax on the company’s numerous shortcomings. Allowing a company, already under fire for poor passenger safety, to operate in light of a driver’s sexual assault conviction could undermine the TFL’s credibility as it could be seen as allowing Uber to carry on without appropriate safeguarding measures.
On the other hand, the TFL may factor in that cancelling Uber’s operations means leaving over 40,000 licensed drivers jobless and depriving about 3.5m Uber users of the service. However, rising competitors Bolt and Ola may possibly provide an alternative to both disgruntled drivers and customers and thus might mitigate this.
The 2-month license was to be extended only if new passenger safety measures were imposed. Shah’s sentencing next month may well be the final nail in Uber’s coffin therefore.