London’s decision last week to deny Uber a license to operate in one of the world’s busiest ride-share markets had implications far beyond the narrow question of how many people should get to drive a car for a living.
The obvious fight was between Uber and the city’s traditional black-cab taxi drivers, who said the ride-share giant was flooding the car-for-hire market with incompetent and dangerous drivers.
But the decision also widened racial and ethnic fault lines within the livery community, as many Uber drivers blasted regulators for what they saw as favoritism toward the city’s black-cab drivers, who are mostly white, native-born Britons. The overwhelming majority of London’s Uber drivers, on the other hand, are nonwhite, and many of them are immigrants, reports The New York Times.
Now, as thousands of Uber drivers face losing their livelihood, some are accusing the London government of Mayor Sadiq Khan of racial and anti-immigrant bias. James Farrar, chairman of the private drivers’ branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, says transportation regulators are only concerned with ensuring good working conditions for the black-cab drivers.
“All these people say they’re championing the working class but what they really mean is they’re championing the white working class,” Farrar, a former Uber driver, told TheNYT.
Transport for London (TfL), the city’s transportation regulator, ruled last month that Uber was not a “fit and proper” company to hold an operating license. TfL said it was concerned about how Uber performs background checks on drivers and how it reports serious criminal offenses to police.
Regulators have allowed Uber to continue to operate in London while the company appeals the decision. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who was in London Tuesday to meet with Khan administration officials about reinstating the license, has tried to address concerns about the company’s operating policies. In a public apology published in the Evening Standard of London, he said that while “Uber has revolutionised the way people move around in cities around the world, it’s equally true that we’ve got things wrong along the way.”
As Uber awaits a ruling on its appeal, many of its drivers in London say they feel squeezed on both sides by TfL and their employer. One Afghanistan-born Uber driver told TheNYT that city regulators have ignored Uber’s low pay and stingy benefits while at the same time unfairly painting its drivers as untrustworthy and dangerous.
“TfL used a terrible excuse,” the driver said. “They are the ones who issue our license. They vet black-cab and they vet us. We even pay them to vet us.”
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