Failure of Government and Transport for London to insist on basic health protection standards to prevent spread of Covid-19 virus within private hire vehicles now places lives at risk

March 30, 2020

Failure of Government and Transport for London to insist on basic health protection standards to prevent spread of Covid-19 virus within private hire vehicles now places lives at risk

·       Government and regulatory authorities placing lives at risk by failing to restrict services to essential journeys for NHS staff and vulnerable persons

·       Government and regulatory authorities failing to set basic safety standards to control covid-19 infection in private hire vehicles by demanding operators implement workplace risk assessment and mitigation plans

·       Private hire operators such as Uber are failing to provide PPE and disinfectant despite weeks of promising to do so

·       Drivers must have access to PPE and regular testing due to high risk of exposure

·       Prevailing industry exploitation of workers and delay in government support until June forcing drivers into high risk work

IMMEDIATE RELEASE - March 30, 2020 10:30

United Private Hire Drivers, the leading industry representative body for private hire drivers, has warned that a deadly combination of mixed messages and poor safety guidance from the Department for Transport and Transport for London together with operator greed on the part of firms like Uber, now risks putting the lives of drivers and the travelling public at risk.

Last week the Department for Transport issued guidance for the taxi and private hire sector which advised that drivers ‘can continue to work’ BUT that ‘people should stay at home if possible’ while advising that drivers ‘should not generally be considered critical workers’ BUT might be considered so ‘on a case by case basis’. Meanwhile Transport for London says it is ‘seeking some further clarity from DfT and agree there is some ambiguity’.

With labour exploitation and employment misclassification rife in the private hire industry, impoverished drivers are forced to carry on working despite the health risks of doing so. With government financial support not expected until June, drivers working for firms like Uber and Addison Lee have little choice but to keep on working in order to service vehicle financing commitments and to meet basic family needs.

Private hire drivers are placed at considerable risk of infection by private hire operators due to their exposure to passengers, within the confines of a small vehicle, who may be carrying or be infected by the Covid-19 virus. The combination of driver poverty pay together with regulatory ambiguity and negligence now raises serious risks for drivers and their passengers.

United Private Hire Drivers are demanding the following:

·       DfT, TfL and all local licensing authorities immediately define essential journeys that may be carried out by private hire vehicles with all other journeys prohibited. These essential journeys should include only:

o   Journeys to and from work for NHS staff

o   Transportation of vulnerable individuals

·       DfT, TfL and all local licensing authorities must require private hire operators to provide to and ensure use by drivers of personal protection equipment including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant & cleaning materials. For weeks Uber has promised to provide hand sanitiser to drivers but has failed to do so.

·       DfT, TfL and all local licensing authorities must require all private hire operators to immediately carry out and submit to the regulator a Covid-19 operational risk assessment and mitigation plan

·       DfT, TfL, local licensing authorities and private hire operators must carry out regular testing of working private hire drivers

·       DfT, TfL and all local licensing authorities must insist on compliance by private hire operators with minimum wage and holiday entitlement for private hire drivers to reduce risk of driver exposure

·       The government must make financial assistance to drivers immediately available now rather than June to reduce risk of driver exposure to the virus due to financial hardship

·       Operators such as Uber must reduce commissions earned to a maximum of 5% for fares earned on essential journeys (currently Uber retains 25% of fares)

James Farrar, Chair of UPHD said:

“With London now a coronavirus hot spot, is unconscionable that there has been no regulatory intervention to reduce the risk of infection to 110,000 vulnerable workers licensed by Transport for London as private hire drivers. The government and TfL must act now to shut down the trade for all but essential journeys. The authorities must immediately enforce strict safety standards for private hire operators including procedures for vehicle disinfecting, regular driver testing and provision of personal protection equipment for drivers. The government must act to provide drivers with financial assistance now rather than June and to insist upon worker rights protection under the law so that nobody is forced into exploitative, high risk work due to personal financial hardship.”