Uber has denied claims that it automatically opted drivers into a letter lobbying mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith not to toughen up the rules under which private hire firms operate.
Goldsmith, along with his Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and UKIP rivals, has pledged support for London’s traditional black cab trade which is under pressure from cheaper minicabs firms.
The Tory candidate’s transport manifesto calls Uber “relatively unregulated” and commits him to introducing new rules, including mandating that drivers be able to demonstrate a minimum level of spoken English and are able to pass a geography test, to ensure “fair competition” with Taxis.
Mr Goldsmith has also pledged to lobby for the power to cap the number of minicabs which Transport for London licenses, a move which he and rivals say is necessary to tackle both congestion and air quality.
In addition Goldsmith says operators would need to buy fleet insurance policies rather than rely on drivers to arrange the correct cover, and has promised that operators would only be able allowed to grow their fleet if they buy zero emission vehicles.
Following publication of his manifesto, Uber sent its drivers emails warning that Goldsmith “seeks to impose additional, harmful regulations on the private hire industry” and urged them to add their name to a letter opposing his stance.
The letter is the latest phase in the firm’s high profile PR battle against any clampdown on its business model.
Sent to Goldsmith’s parliamentary offices, the letter claims the signatories speak for “some of the 100,000 Londoners who make a living as licensed private hire drivers” and says his proposals “treat us, and the millions of passengers we help get around the city, like second class citizens.”
It also claims his policies “have no obvious benefits,” and asserts that the solution to boosting the Taxi trade is to “reform the rules for black cabs so that they can compete more effectively.”
Although drivers were initially invited to volunteer to sign the letter, one Uber operative has alleged that the firm later automatically added the names of others and told drivers they would need to opt-out if they didn’t want to be included. The firm has strongly denied this happened.
An Uber spokesperson told MayorWatch: “Our partner-drivers have been overwhelmingly clear that some of the proposals in Mr Goldsmith’s transport manifesto would be damaging for them.
“We agree and gave every driver who uses the Uber app in London the opportunity to add their voice to a letter relaying their concerns. Only those who opted-in and confirmed they wanted their name added to the letter were included.
“And those who opted-in were also given three opportunities to change their mind before the letter was submitted.”
FULL TEXT OF LETTER
Dear Mr Goldsmith,
We are some of the 100,000 Londoners who make a living as licensed private hire drivers. We come from all over the city, including places with high unemployment, and work hard to support ourselves and our families. Yet your Transport Manifesto seems to treat us, and the millions of passengers we help get around the city, like second class citizens.
You claim we are ‘relatively unregulated’. But the vehicles we use, our insurance and our backgrounds are all checked, just like black cab drivers, and we are licensed by Transport for London. The new regulations you propose have no obvious benefits. For example, moving from individual to fleet insurance will force drivers like us to work exclusively with one operator.
We get that you care deeply about traffic and air quality in London. As Londoners we do too. But we’re part of the solution, not the problem:
Over 40% of Uber trips in the city are in hybrid cars. Everyone would like to see more electric vehicles in the capital, but without a good network of charging points that’s not possible today;
Apps like Uber are a complement to public transport. Here in London, for example, more than a third of our trips start or end within 200 metres of a tube stop. And our busiest times are late at night when other transport options are limited or non-existent.
Carpooling services like uberPOOL are proven to cut the number of miles driven as as well as CO2 emissions.
Throughout your campaign you’ve said that you’d stand up for hard working people like us. But your proposals will do the opposite. We understand that you want to support taxi drivers. The answer, though, is not to impose extra harmful regulations on the private hire industry but to reform the rules for black cabs so they can compete more effectively.
Please think again.