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(Daily Mail, UK)How safe is your Uber?

Posted by: Biniam Tekle

Date: Tuesday, 01 August 2017

How safe is your Uber? Growing concern as police figures suggest company's drivers are linked to one sex attack in London per week

  • Police figures show sex attacks involving Uber drivers up 50 per cent in a year
  • From February 2015 and February 2016, there were 32 claims made against firm's drivers in London
  • In the past 12 months to February 2017, that figure shot up to 48 alleged attacks 
  • But Uber said such incidents are 'incredibly rare' and result in driver bannings  



Hours later, Haile was at it again, telling a female passenger: ‘I want to sleep in your bed.’ As luck would have it, she was an undercover policewoman and Haile would subsequently be arrested and linked to the first attack.

Some might dismiss it as a relatively minor incident, but its impact would be immense.

‘I have suffered from repeated flashbacks relating to the incident,’ the victim revealed in a statement read out in court in 2015, when Haile was jailed for eight months.

‘I feel helpless, isolated and vulnerable, and the incident has made me lonely. I now don’t like being in a vehicle with a man I don’t know. I had to move since the cab journey because I was so worried the man knew where I lived. I am haunted by the “what if?” scenarios.’

Samson Haile, 32, who sexually assaulted a female customer in the back of his cab. He was jailed for eight months
Jahir Hussain, who was jailed for 12 years for attacks on three separate women in London. He groped two and raped the third, cutting off their underwear with a knife after they fell asleep in the back of his cab.

Pictured left: Samson Haile, 32, who sexually assaulted a female customer in the back of his cab. He was jailed for eight months. Right: Jahir Hussain, who was jailed for 12 years for attacks on three separate women in London. He groped two and raped the third, cutting off their underwear with a knife after they fell asleep in the back of his cab.

Earlier this month, a different court was hearing another case involving an Uber driver. This time, Jahir Hussain was jailed for 12 years for attacks on three separate women in London. He groped two and raped the third, cutting off their underwear with a knife after they fell asleep in the back of his cab.

A spokesman said Uber’s thoughts were with the victims, but added: ‘While these attacks did not take place on a trip booked through our app, we were still able to support the police in bringing this man to justice.’

Little wonder there are growing concerns that Uber’s aggressive expansion could be jeopardising passenger safety. MPs and unions are warning that new drivers are exploiting legislative loopholes to sidestep measures intended to safeguard the public, such as installing CCTV cameras in the back of cabs.

Questions have also been raised about whether pressure on Uber drivers to maximise their earnings is leading to them lending their vehicles to other drivers — so passengers have no idea who may be driving them home late at night.

Some will see such criticisms as sour grapes, whipped up by those who lost out after the Californian company launched its services in London in 2012.

The firm runs a smartphone app that allows users to hail a minicab at the tap of a screen using location software in the passenger and driver’s phones.

The firm runs a smartphone app (pictured) that allows users to hail a minicab at the tap of a screen using location software in the passenger and driver’s phones

The firm runs a smartphone app (pictured) that allows users to hail a minicab at the tap of a screen using location software in the passenger and driver’s phones

A nearby driver is summoned, making it quicker, easier and cheaper than booking a minicab or hailing a taxi.

The app is connected to the passenger’s credit card, with journeys charged per mile and minute. Prices vary according to demand, with Uber taking a percentage of the fare and the majority going to the driver.

It is a huge hit. In London, the number of Uber vehicles exceeds the 24,000 black cabs, and it boasts more than 40,000 drivers across the 40 UK towns and cities it operates in.

But behind its rapid spread lie a number of controversies.

These include allegations that Uber enjoyed close ties with former Prime Minister David Cameron and his government.

This newspaper has highlighted claims that Downing Street is said to have orchestrated a lobbying campaign to get Boris Johnson, then London Mayor, to protect the company from onerous regulation. This was after Rachel Whetstone, Cameron’s close friend and the wife of his former adviser Steve Hilton, became Uber’s head of policy and communications. She has since quit.

Behind Uber's rapid spread lie a number of controversies. These include allegations it enjoyed close ties with former Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured) and his government

Behind Uber's rapid spread lie a number of controversies. These include allegations it enjoyed close ties with former Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured) and his government

Then, last October, Uber lost a landmark employment tribunal which ruled that its drivers should be classed as workers, rather than as self-employed.

The ruling, which Uber is appealing, could leave the company open to claims from its drivers, who are not entitled to holiday pay, pensions or working time controls.

But the issue of passenger safety refuses to go away.

New figures, obtained by the Daily Mail via a Freedom of Information request, suggest the number of sex attacks involving Uber drivers in London could now be running at one a week, having increased by 50 per cent in a year.

Between February 2015 and February 2016, there were 32 sexual assault claims made against Uber drivers in London. In the past 12 months to February 2017, that figure rose to 48 alleged offences.

But there is a caveat. The latest data released by the Metropolitan Police includes all instances where an Uber driver was named as a suspect in a reported sexual offence or where they were mentioned in such a crime report.

Scotland Yard says it is possible some accused drivers could have been incorrectly identified as working for Uber, or were not working for Uber at the time of the alleged offence.

It also made the point that not all complaints result in charges being brought.

During 2015, Transport for London recorded 136 reported offences of rape and sexual assault against drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles in the capital.

Owing to various reasons, such as lack of evidence or the victim’s reluctance to prosecute, in 2015, just 28 licensed drivers ended up in court.

Of these, only eight have so far been convicted of sexual assault. None of that number was a black cab driver. How many worked for Uber is unclear — but, as we have seen, its drivers have been convicted of a number of attacks and many people believe there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Uber’s operation.

‘This is just the tip of the iceberg — we believe sexual assaults like these are hugely under-reported,’ says Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association and a vocal opponent of Uber. ‘We’ve had numerous reports from our customers that they’ve been assaulted in an Uber, most are gropes or inappropriate behaviour.’

This newspaper has highlighted claims that Downing Street is said to have orchestrated a lobbying campaign to get Boris Johnson (pictured), then London Mayor, to protect Uber from onerous regulation

This newspaper has highlighted claims that Downing Street is said to have orchestrated a lobbying campaign to get Boris Johnson (pictured), then London Mayor, to protect Uber from onerous regulation

He believes ‘one of the biggest issues’ is that Uber drivers are under such pressure to earn a living that they may choose to illegally ‘rent out’ their vehicles to other drivers.

Those drivers will be not only uninsured, but unlicensed, too, and could pose an unknown threat to the passenger.

‘Uber drivers often hire the car they work in and have to make £350 to £400 a week before they have earned a penny,’ says Mr McNamara. ‘Earning £6 or £7 an hour, they have to work four or five days to cover their hire costs, petrol and insurance, so many will go to someone they know and say: “You take the car around when I’m not using it.”

‘That way, they reduce their costs by a third or a half. But it means anyone could be behind the wheel — you never know who is driving the car.’

Uber refutes these claims, saying the way the company operates is designed with passenger safety at its forefront.

‘When people book through Uber, they get a photo and the name of their driver, as well as the model of car and registration number,’ said a spokesman.

‘Every trip is also GPS-tracked and recorded. In London, all licensed private-hire drivers must also wear their photo identification badges while driving.

‘While complaints of this nature are incredibly rare, if a driver is found to have allowed a third party to use their app they are immediately stopped from using Uber and reported to the regulator as this is a serious offence which would see them lose their licence and livelihood.’

In order to get a licence, Uber drivers, like the drivers of black cabs, must apply to a licensing authority. In London, this is TfL.

All drivers will go through a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check which will flag up any previous convictions. The local authority then decides whether it will give the driver a licence.

But different authorities have different criteria — such as the need for child safety awareness training or the insistence on the installation of CCTV cameras — and following deregulation of the industry in 2015, drivers who are granted a licence by one authority have the right to work wherever they like.

Pictured: Hundreds of London cab drivers protest against Uber along Whitehall in central London earlier in the year

Pictured: Hundreds of London cab drivers protest against Uber along Whitehall in central London earlier in the year 

Known as ‘cross-border hiring’, it means a licence granted in London by TfL allows the driver to work anywhere, and he or she need only comply with the regulations in London, rather than those of the city they may actually work in.

Further, the enforcement authorities in any given city has powers only over taxis it licensed, so it cannot carry out checks on vehicles or drivers that have been licensed elsewhere.

In January, Southend council learned that two private-hire cab drivers it had stripped of licences (for sharing penalty points with other drivers to avoid disqualification) were working in the area after applying for new private-hire vehicle licences from TfL.

Nasser Hussain, 60, and Nisar Abbas, 37, were each jailed for 12 months after pleading guilty to ten counts of perverting the course of justice in 2010, prior to the launch of Uber.

‘We removed these people from the road, but we now find we are impotent to protect the public,’ said Tony Cox, Southend council’s cabinet member for transport. ‘Uber is sticking two fingers up at licensing authorities like ours.’

The ability to work wherever they like applies to all taxis and private-hire vehicles, but the rate at which Uber is recruiting has brought the issue into sharp focus.

In Southampton, taxis and private-hire vehicles licensed by the council are required to have digital CCTV cameras fitted at a cost of £700 per tamper-proof unit. But in recent months, the city has been flooded with Uber drivers licensed elsewhere.

Out of approximately 180 Uber cars, it is claimed at least 160 are registered outside Southampton.

There is similar concern in York. As few as a dozen Uber drivers are licensed by York council, but hundreds are said to arrive from surrounding areas every weekend to take advantage of the increased demand.

Police in the city are investigating the late-night sexual assault of a woman by a 60-year-old Uber driver. It has since emerged the driver was licensed in Bradford.

(A spokesman for Uber said that while the driver had been working for the firm earlier in the night, the allegation did not relate to a trip booked through the app.)


Perhaps most worrying is the situation in Rotherham. There, tough licensing requirements — including enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks and cameras in vehicles — were introduced after the scandal that saw private-hire taxis used in the sexual exploitation of children. But drivers have evaded the requirements by registering outside the town.

Last week, a report by a cross-party Parliamentary group called on the Government to act.

‘Passenger safety is being put at risk because minicab drivers and operators are using loopholes in the law and a patchwork quilt of different safety standards across the country to flout rules introduced by local authorities to keep their residents safe,’ said Wes Streeting, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Taxis and Labour MP for Ilford North.

He wants a law to be introduced whereby a taxi journey must ‘begin or end in the licensing authority where the licence was issued’.

Uber points out the problems of cross-border hiring are not specific to its drivers, and apply to any taxi or minicab driver.

A spokesman added: ‘We proactively encourage drivers to apply for a licence in the region they plan to do most of their driving. In the absence of a national licensing database, Uber recently introduced a new process that helps to improve transparency and consistent application of council licensing decisions.

‘We work with local councils to check whether drivers they have refused to give a licence to have been licensed elsewhere. Uber partners only with licensed private-hire drivers and, while councils can have different policies, the fundamentals are the same.’ 



Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4741030/Figures-Uber-drivers-linked-one-sex-attack-week.html#ixzz4oWudD2HS 
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