Uber in London Failed to Flag Assault Complaints, Monitor Drivers’ Insurance Status

By | January 24, 2020

London’s main transportation regulator has released a scathing document detailing why it moved to ban Uber Technologies Inc. from operating in the city. The regulator lists several safety concerns, including the charge that it didn’t receive proper notification of alleged sexual assaults involving the platform.

The report comes just months after the regulator, Transport for London, revoked Uber’s license to operate in the city for the second time in less than three years. Uber is currently doing business in London under a temporary license, and fighting for the ability to continue operating in one of the world’s biggest hubs.

Sent to Uber in late November but only released this week, the regulator’s 62-page document focuses on charges that Uber failed to adequately verify drivers’ identities and safeguard the service for passengers. It also says the company blamed “system or human error” for its failing to promptly notify Transport for London about seven incidents that led the company to suspend a driver. A number of these related to allegations of rape and sexual assault, the report said.

In November, “We found Uber not fit and proper to hold a new private hire operator’s license,” said Helen Chapman, the regulator’s licensing director, noting that the company had submitted an appeal.

Uber declined a request for comment.

Transport for London, TfL, has previously said that at least 14,000 Uber trips involved drivers who weren’t who they said they were, thanks to the company’s fallible license-verification process. One driver found exploiting Uber’s app had already had a private hire license revoked by the regulator after it discovered the person had received a caution for distributing indecent images of children, it said.

In the report, the U.K. regulator also attacked Uber’s system for monitoring drivers’ insurance status, stating that the ride-hailing company had failed to stop uninsured drivers from working on the app.

The regulator said that some drivers were able to hack Uber’s platform by manipulating their GPS settings when uploading photos, a tactic that allowed them to change photos or put their photo on another driver’s account. Drivers are banned from doing so in the U.K. Five of these drivers had already been dismissed by Uber, the report said.

The regulator also flagged a software patch used by Uber drivers to allow them to see passenger destinations, mainly a strategy used by drivers at airports. The issue was brought to TfL’s attention by an unnamed third party.

The ability for drivers to see passenger destinations in advance of accepting a trip is significant because it means drivers can reject shorter, less pricey trips in favor of more profitable long hauls. Drivers worldwide have long requested the feature, with Uber making it available just this month to California drivers as a way to strengthen its case that its drivers are free agents and should not be governed by a new state law seeking to reclassify them as employees.

Uber is currently preparing an appeal to TfL’s decision to revoke its license, a process that could take years, and during which time the company will be allowed to continue operating in the city. Meanwhile, Uber is still flagging potential issues to TfL. In November, the company told the regulator about an online scam targeting drivers to create fake trips for charging passengers.

–With assistance from Nate Lanxon.

Photograph: A logo for Uber is seen on a smartphone in front of a taxi rank at Waterloo train station in London on Dec. 22, 2017. Photo taken by Chris J Ratcliffe / Bloomberg.

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