I’m not really into politics but the decision to ban Uber today has shocked me more than pretty much any piece of news I’ve heard all year. I’m a 29-year-old woman who works in London. My job – I’m an events manager at The Spectator – often requires me to work late into the night, and Uber is the quickest, cheapest, safest way to make sure I get home and get a good night’s rest before having to get up early for work the next day. My friends who work night shifts rely on Uber to get home when public transport isn’t reliable enough and doesn’t run all through the night. For some, the loss of Uber in London will be a inconvenience. But for women like me, it’s a huge threat to our safety.
Transport for London (TfL) has said that the app that allows people to hail-a-ride within minutes was not ‘fit and proper to hold a London private hire operator license’. This is the same TfL that is notoriously unable to guarantee the safety of passengers. Last Saturday night I was trekking back from east London on the Tube, only to be accosted by a drunk passenger who cornered me and started yelling abuse inside the station. I was then followed out of the station and accosted again, to the point where I had to leg it down the street in my high heels, tripping over my dress.
This is what will be waiting for young female Londoners after the Uber ban. The alternative is not a black cab; we can never afford that. That’s if we can find them late at night, and if they’d agree to go to the cheaper parts of London. I live in Brixton and hailing an Uber to go five minutes down the road is much easier and safer than the thought of walking the journey, in the dark, late at night. You’d anyway be hard-pressed to find a black cab on the Brixton Road at 11pm. So you’re left with the option of a potentially unlicensed mini cab, which would probably have to be pre-booked. Or waiting in a queue, freezing your bare legs off.
Not only will the loss of Uber in London encourage women to put themselves at risk by walking shorter journeys, but we’re all very much aware of the risks of getting into an unknown car. Before Uber, you had random Ford Mondeos in Soho shouting ‘minicab?’ – you’d see women drunkenly negotiating over price and getting in. A shocking risk, but it was – pre-Uber – part of city life. People didn’t wait for a licensed cab, as these firms run out of vehicles as soon as the pubs closed. The alternative to Uber is unlicensed cars, and women at far greater risk.
And in the age where women are still accused of ‘bringing it on themselves’ when they are the victims of sexual attacks because they’re wearing ‘provocative clothing’, we should be making it easier for women to enjoy their lives independently.
Admittedly, there are reports of Uber failing to report sex attacks by drivers. But it’s never quite clear if these reports are exaggerated, or how the figures for Uber attacks compare for black cab drivers. Perhaps Uber needs to address this in its appeal for its license. Drivers should have to undergo DBS checks, like the black cabbie driver does. You can already send a link to friends so they can track your ETA, so asking for greater checks on drivers doesn’t seem like too much to ask of Uber if they want to keep their licence.
Finally, as a millennial Londoner, I’m used to everything happening instantly, and on-demand. If Transport for London takes that ability away, it will slow down the pace of life in our capital. It is decreasing the city’s productivity. We are technologically regressing. We will have seen the invention of something amazing: for me, life-changing. Three million of us used it. Now, it’s vanishing.
So before TfL take the side of the black cabbies, I want to know if TfL is going to make the Tube 24 hours, 7 days a week? Given the protests and strikes last time, I don’t see that happening any time soon. Is TfL going to make sure there are more staff on carriages to make sure passengers can reliably get to where they need to be, without delay, without threat?
Uber has been banned on spurious grounds of corporate responsibility. But where is TfL’s corporate responsibility? Because right now, all over London, women will be appalled. Mothers who relied on Uber to get their daughters home at night will be appalled. People who live in poorer areas, where black cabs tend not to go, will be appalled. The alternative, for women like me, is not a black cab. It’s more danger, greater fear and a London that will become a far worse place to live. This decision is anti-women, anti-safety, anti-young people and anti-London.