It is 1:30 am and I have just exited Draper’s Bar and Kitchen for the final Hail Mary event before the Christmas holidays. Still intoxicated, I make my way down Mile End Road considering my options to get home. Whilst my peers make their way back to campus or private accommodation that is located close to the university, I have to make the journey back to North Hackney. Not only is the underground closed after 12 am but buses take as long as 20 minutes to arrive. Waiting for 20 minutes at a bus stop in Mile End in the dark, whilst trying to avoid any attention doesn’t really appeal to me. As a result, it is time to resort to the final but most efficient option: Uber. I pull out my phone, open the Uber app and within 2 minutes I’ve managed to find a driver, and arrange a meeting place. As a student, I find it cheap, efficient, and from my personal experience, it is safe. Therefore, what do students like myself make of Uber’s potential demise?
In November 2019, the BBC reported that Uber had lost its license to operate in London. This was because Uber had been found to have safety concerns with 14,000 fraudulent trips between late 2018 and early 2019. TfL had deemed it as not “fit and proper” to be a license holder as this was not the first time there had been concerns. The ruling was facilitated by the mayor, Sadiq Khan who claimed “I know the decision may be unpopular with Uber users, but their safety is the paramount concern. Regulations are there to keep Londoner’s safe”.
Despite Sadiq Khan’s reassurance that this was to preserve Londoner’s safety, I am not so convinced.
As students, are we really safer without Uber? Let us consider the immediate alternatives – like catching the bus, taking the tube or hailing a black cab. During the day, it may be easier to use public transport, but the problem emerges at night when students have to travel a long way home. The first shortcoming is that the underground does not operate after 12 am therefore that has to be ruled out. Using the bus at that time is not very safe either: The wait is frustrating and unfortunately, I do not have a creep repellent for those people on the bus who are particularly keen to make young and vulnerable students uncomfortable. It just doesn’t feel secure enough. On top of that, the bus never drops me directly home and the thought of walking through Hackney at 2 am makes me shudder.
The next option is black cabs. Although it does the job of effectively dropping you home, there are numerous concerns for university students. The first of which is cost; the expense of black cabs is considerably higher than Uber which automatically crosses it off from a student’s list. Furthermore, black cabs do not have the same accessibility and features as the Uber app. Those features include being able to share your trip with friends and family; tracking the journey; and a newly enabled emergency button. As black cabs do not offer these options, it is essential to question: What do we stand to gain by taking away Uber?
My message to Sadiq Khan is that taking away Uber is not going to make students feel any safer. Instead, the solution should be putting more money towards implementing more effective safety features and a much more rigorous vetting system for drivers. At the end of the day, it is the safety of the consumer that is compromised if they don’t have options like Uber to take them home.
Students at different universities across London are taking a stand against this move:
“I take Uber everywhere after dark and I don’t like using any other Uber-like app because I don’t trust them as much as Uber since Uber is a world-class company and has different cars for different people.” Hatem, 19, Queen Mary University of London
“If it wasn’t for Uber, I would still probably be sitting in my room isolated, alone and not getting an education or being able to work due to my phobia which is a disability that prevents me from travelling during daylight hours. As a result, I have to travel by cabs everywhere to be able to do anything at all, even going to the corner shop is a struggle for me. If it wasn’t for Uber, I have no idea where I’d be or what I’d be doing. Now I’m starting uni in January and that’s all because of the Uber app that is available to me which is affordable and accessible.” Ameera, 20, University of East London
However, other students are in support of Uber losing their license due to its failure to treat their drivers correctly:
“It’s actually good for society that Uber is losing its license because they are undercutting drivers, many of whom have their vehicles on finance. With over 30,000 drivers, Uber has created a monopoly in which its drivers are the biggest victims. They charge 25% commission and don’t give driver’s rights. They don’t see them as employees just contractors, so they lost many basic workplace rights.” Ali, University College London
Amidst allegations of sexual assault and mistreatment of drivers, it is necessary that TfL takes measures to ensure that Uber complies with safety regulations. As students, it will be damning if Uber is no longer on the roads, but all is not lost with new and emerging companies that are ready to take Uber’s place. This includes apps like Lyft, Bolt and Kapten. With Uber-like features, these companies are handy apps to have on your phone. They may not offer the same flexibility or experience as Uber, but it is a useful alternative.
However, Uber isn’t going to disappear off the roads yet, they will continue to operate whilst they appeal TfL’s decision. If you do find yourself on Mile End Road on a chilly morning at 2 am, remember that Uber is still here for a while.