Transport for London to toughen up on taxi firms in the Uber age

Sort out your safety policies... oh, and share all your travel info with us

Private-hire cab firms that want to operate in the UK capital will have to demonstrate how they protect riders' safety and data – and may still only get short-term licences, Transport for London has said.

Under new rules proposed by TfL, private-hire firms will have to specify who is accountable for passenger and driver safety, and ensure that crimes are reported quickly to the police.

The body said it was rolling out the changes due to new technologies causing a surge in taxi-hailing firms, noting that ride-sharing apps are of particular concern – although this seems, at least in part, to be causing a headache for TfL's monitoring of people and traffic flows.

"These trends have created challenges for transport authorities around the world, including how to apply existing licensing legislation, managing the impact of more vehicles moving around the city and ensuring a safe and secure service for all," TfL said.

In a policy statement (PDF) setting out the plans, TfL made much of increased safety and security, saying the operators' approach will be "closely considered" as part of licensing decisions.

It added that, because of the rapidly changing technologies involved, licences "for restricted periods of time only may be granted" when firms are considered compliant with current licensing legislation.

A major focus of the document is safety – concerns in this area were one of the reasons TfL declined to reinstate Uber's licence back in September 2017.

The biz has come under repeated fire for its laissez-faire attitude to even the most serious of offences – as reported by London Reconnections, Uber continued to employ a driver accused of a sexual assault and failed to contact the police.

TfL will now require the firm to name a member of senior management accountable for safety and protection of personal data and set "clear policies and action for the prevention and reporting of offences".

It also emphasised the – entirely reasonable – demand that crime is reported to the police and TfL "in a timely fashion to allow drivers who pose a risk to safety to be identified".

There is also a more vague proposal that would ask firms to hold on to data for an unspecified time "to ensure that any patterns of behaviour are recognised".

TfL also asked private-hire businesses to develop a way to allow passengers to choose who they share vehicles with – the example given is female-only cabs – before accepting a ride.

However, in addition to setting the clear rules for appropriate behaviour, TfL also used the opportunity to lay the groundwork for snaffling up cab firms' travel data.

"Operators should share data with TfL, so that travel patterns in London and the overall impact of the services can be understood," TfL said in the document. This proposal will be investigated further before policies are set, it said.

Monitoring movement of traffic and people in the capital is a crucial part of TfL's work, and with the increasing number of journeys made by vehicles it doesn't control, it would like to close that gap.

This is especially so because TfL is under pressure to reduce traffic and improve air quality in the city – and it sees ride-sharing services as a way to reduce use of private car use and ownership.

The Register asked Uber whether it would consider sharing its travel data with TfL, but the biz avoided directly answering the question.

Instead, a spokesperson said: "Over the last few years we've led the way with pioneering technology, such as GPS tracking of every trip, which raises standards and enhances safety.

"We're now building on that with new features, like our driver hours limits, which we hope other operators will also introduce.

"Across the world we're also partnering with cities, from helping to reduce private car ownership to using our data to assist urban planners through our new Movement tool."

Uber's appeal is due to begin on April 30. ®

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