2017 is clearly the year that Uber got taken for granted.
As a Facebook post written by your middle-aged neighbour once said: ‘you don’t realise what you’ve missed until it’s gone’. With an estimated 3.5 million Londoners who use the app, at least 50% – if not more – of those users are clearly women, or non-binary people. Being a woman myself, I can’t help but agree that Uber has definitely become a useful tool in guaranteeing my safety, especially at particular points in the night. In a world where public harassment is experienced so frequently by women and girls of all ages, when walking through a particularly booky area, it’s always a relief to know that help is rarely ever more than a 5 minute, 4.7 star rated, car ride away.
A variety of statistics and campaigns by TfL sadly prove that whether I am walking alone, or whether I am within the warm, delayed shell of a Southern Rail train, as a woman I am still at risk. In a 2015 speech to the Department of Transport, Claire Perry explained that one in seven women (in that year alone) had been victims of sexual harassment on public transport. Heck, the phrase ‘sexual harassment on public transport’ has become so commonplace, Google lights up like a Christmas tree when you type it in. Recent statistics conducted by the British Transport Police show reported offences rising from 650 in 2012-13 to a massive 1,448 in 2016-17. This could mean two things: either, offences really have risen by that much and we are all doomed, or this rise in numbers could indicate that women are standing up and reporting them. With the latter being more positive, both are negative in sadly proving that, either way, the numbers are not declining.
Assuming that it is just women as a whole who are affected here is too general a statement. Many people on Friday took to Twitter to speak of their dismay about the possible banishment of Uber in London. An interesting tweet by Sunny Singh proved the necessity of Uber as a service for women of colour:
Was explaining to a (white) friend that for all its flaws, Uber is life support. I KNOW the driver will accept my fare (unlike black cabs)
— Citizen of Nowhere (@sunnysingh_n6) September 22, 2017
Meanwhile, the queer drag performer Amrou Al-Khadi wrote:
As a queer person of colour who uses #uber to get safely to drag shows, the news makes me anxious. Public transport & drag is often not safe
— Amrou Al-Kadhi (@Glamrou) September 22, 2017
We must not forget that it is not just cis-women who are at risk without the safety of Uber, but feminine people, non-binary people, trans people, drag-queens and survivors of assault – the list goes on. We don’t even need to necessarily bring gender in to play here. People of colour are also another aspect of society who must be addressed when looking at the dismissal of Uber – Singh’s tweet indicates that cab drivers in London were hostile towards her, which is why she preferred to use Uber. In a piece by Shona Gosh for Business Insider, she states that most black cab drivers are white and middle-class, while a majority of private hire drivers are non-white immigrants. In turn, Gosh recalls the gross racism that many Uber drivers have subsequently received, with some cabbies telling them to ‘go back to their own country’.
Of course, there is no pretending that Uber is perfect. TfL clearly has legitimate reasons as to why they felt it necessary to discontinue the companies license. First of all, our reliance on each driver’s star rating as a safety feature appears transparent when it should be brought to our attention that it is not a requirement by Uber for each driver to have a DBS check. Star ratings are great as reassurance that the person who rode before you had a pleasant journey, but in any other situation where safety and responsibility is a concern, they would not be accepted. Data released by the The Sun (we’re sorry) last year showed that 32 accounts of sexual assaults on women by Uber drivers in London had been reported between 2015-16 alone. It all seems pretty gross to think that so much trust is put in a company whose main enticing feature is its commitment to safety, when in reality their approach to it appears to be completely nonchalant. This is also especially current if we are to consider the scaremongering that was once associated with getting into unlicensed cabs: ‘fear should be a thing of the past when supposed safe choices such as Uber are to exist’.
A life without Uber will be a different one, so perhaps it is time that the capital started reconsidering its options, especially if Uber do not win whatever lawsuit they hope to pursue. Since the revelation, Caroline Lucas has even expressed her interest in doing the same for Brighton, so it is quite possible that even more cities may begin to follow suit. With so many other private hire alternatives out there the idea of living in a world where we can travel home safely without having to endorse an awful corporation may not be so ridiculous. Being a company that is just as interested in our safety as it is our money, they can stuff their 1.3x surge fares.
Instead of viewing the ruling as a disservice, we should view it as a wakeup call. The death of Uber in London is just what we need to make people realise that things have to be done to ensure the safety and security of vulnerable people, let’s just hope that this now becomes a priority.
Words by Charlotte Johnstone