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Professional Drivers’ branch president Simon Rush expresses concern after the launch of tech giant’s ride-sharing scheme

THE GMB Professional Drivers Branch has much to deal with on behalf of the trade but currently number one on our list is  UberPool and its effects on safety.

Before the launch of this ride-share app we emailed TfL and the mayor outlining our fears on the ethics of this method of travel, and we will share some of our concerns in this column. Details of the full transcript can be found on our website.

Uberpool started in London on 11th December with drivers informed of this less than a week before its inception and were only made aware of the new contract terms a few days before it commenced.  This  included a controversial opt-in clause to join UberPool but no opt-out choice. Interesting when you consider as ’‘driver-partners” no drivers had a say.

Uberpool, sometimes referred under a different name, has been rolled out across the globe, and from what we can tell these shared rides can lead to a 35 per cent reduction in revenue for the driver. We have seen a driver fare of £3.52 when on UberPool – below the living wage – but increased profit to Uber. Some say this is the shared economy, but we disagree.

It also seems the punter has little choice according to GMB members who are Uber partner drivers, with some reporting that some passengers are surprised when they enter the vehicle and see another customer already seated.

Within a few days of starting, passengers are complaining about the other pickup, which apparently is often not only “two minutes away.”  But, for a moment, let’s forget about the inconvenience to the customers and instead focus on the potential dangers to the general public and you the driver,  now in the uncomfortable position of playing referee.

Some  punters are already calling the service UberMate, which clearly shows the potential danger that lone females could face and the real possibility that they might unknowingly get in a vehicle with a sexual predator. Obviously, this is the worst case scenario – but it is not implausible.

And then there is the question of what a driver is meant to do when one customer ‘tries their luck’ with another?  It seems it will be incumbent on the driver to intervene and try and keep situations under control, even if it risks his/her own safety.

What promises have Uber made to TfL to ensure this is never the case? Private hire drivers are not bus drivers and, as such, are not afforded the same  luxury of sitting behind a protective screen, having been trained to deal with multi-passenger situations and with the added benefit of an emergency contact procedure. One suspects, but can’t prove, that the response to an assault against a bus driver will receive quicker attention than one on a PHV driver.

There are other less serious possible occurrences such as one passenger having forgotten something and asking to be taken back to quickly retrieve it. Again, the driver will have to make the decision and he could be in a position where he can’t win, no matter what course of action he takes.

Almost adding insult to injury, as well as potentially facing more stress, in a job that is already quite dangerous, the driver could well be earning less to boot. Doesn’t sound like a great deal really – especially if you’d rather have opted out of it.

It is worth noting in general, that if you ever feel threatened by a punter, it could be a good idea to drive to the closest red route, stop and put your hazard lights on. Red routes are covered by  CCTV and, in theory, your vehicle will be recognised as a PHV  and emergency response vehicles should arrive. At the very least the CCTV will be recording the incident, so leaving your car and waving at the nearest camera will alert the controller to a potential problem.

Finally, if picking up a client and you are not sure of their intentions, talk to them via the front passenger window not yours, before allowing them into your vehicle. They can’t reach you from that side without difficulty. If in doubt, always pull off and let your office know asap.

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