Transport for London refusal to allow safety screens in private hire vehicles placing drivers and passengers at risk as driver death rates soar

Institutional racism and a less than arms length relationship between private hire operators, the government and Transport for London now a lethal combination.

May 12, 2020

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Transport for London refusal to allow safety screens in private hire vehicles placing drivers and passengers at risk as driver death rates soar

  • TfL hopelessly conflicted after holding Covid-19 safety summit summit with minicab bosses while excluding dedicated driver representation
  • ONS stats show soaring death rates amongst minicab drivers but TfL has refused to introduce safety regulations & is now blocking drivers from installing safety screens
  • As commuters return to work and avoid public transport demand for private hire services likely to sky-rocket but poor safety standards will lead to a spike in deaths of drivers and passengers
  • Institutional racism, regulatory failure and employment misclassification has become a lethal combination

Last Thursday, Transport for London convened an industry Covid-19 industry safety summit with firms such as Uber, Ola, Bolt, Kapten and Addison Lee present but dedicated representation for private hire drivers was excluded.

The outcome of the meeting is a continued ban on safety screens in vehicles despite ONS data showing the Covoid-19 death rate among private hire drivers amongst the highest in all occupations.

TfL’s decision represents a terrible conflict of interest with the regulator being unduly influenced by companies like Uber who misclassify workers and deny any responsibility for either driver or passengers according to their terms of service.

Similarly, we see Uber directly quoting praise from Matt Hancock in their corporate press releases despite the soaring death rate amongst drivers. We note Uber’s Head of Communications, Lottie Dominiczak is a former special adviser to the Health Secretary.

As commuters return to work and are advised to avoid public transport, demand for private hire services is set to sky-rocket. Without immediate regulatory intervention to control infection in the industry we are likely to see another spike in driver deaths and also passenger deaths.

Transport for London has relied on central government guidance which in turn has been confused and contradictory. In response to a pre action letter sent by United Private Hire Drivers, government lawyers from the Department for Health and Social Care incorrectly advised it is NHS policy that protective screens in vehicles separating drivers and passengers are not required for the protection of NHS staff and volunteers. Government lawyers then suggested we follow this faulty advice.

The Secretary of State also notes that similar private vehicles are being used by the NHS Volunteer Responder scheme for patient journeys, without a requirement for there to be screens or the other measures which you propose. The Government encourages private hire vehicles to promote the measures set out in the NHS Volunteer transport guidelines

In fact, NHS guidelines for staff and volunteers transport service providers mandates that separation screens must be fitted to protect drivers from the risk of infection and that vehicles must be disinfected daily.

All vehicles are to be fitted with temporary bulkheads – an immediate measure can be two sheets of polythene sealed separately with heavy duty tape, with fitted hard plastic bulkheads if required. All vehicles must be additionally cleaned. Vehicle interiors are to be wiped down with chlorine wipes after each journey and deep cleaned with 1000ppm chlorine-based solution once a day.

In making the decision not to regulate safety protection for licensed private hire drivers government lawyers describe the callous trade off between the lives of workers and short term damage to the economy:

considerations include the risk and consequences of infection; the potential damage to the economy (and the risks associated with that); the need to ensure that transport remains available (and the risks if it is not);

United Private Hire Drivers is running an emergency crowdfunding appeal to seek an emergency judicial review of the failure of the government and the Mayor of London to regulate to protect the lives of licensed private hire drivers and their passengers.

James Farrar, Chair of United Private Hire Drivers said:

“Institutional racism and a less than arms-length relationship between minicab bosses, the government and Transport for London is the root cause of a soaring Covid-19 death rate amongst licensed private hire drivers. It is time for the Health Secretary and the Mayor of London to regulate industry safety and if they can’t do that, they must stop blocking drivers from taking the initiative themselves to install protective safety screens.”