Uber, the controversial min-cab service, has changed a page on its UK website which encouraged its drivers to work 65-hour weeks amid growing concern about “excessive and unsafe” hours driven on the service.Until last week, the entry page for new recruits on the company’s British site promised drivers that Uber could “turn your car into a money machine,” with earnings averaging £3360 a month.
This was “based on average net payments of partner-drivers in London who have driven 55-65 hours [per week] in November 2015”. The legal safe limit for a bus or lorry driver is 56 hours a week.
After being contacted by the Sunday Telegraph, Uber changed the page to claim that drivers could earn a slightly smaller amount, £3300 a month, simply by being “logged into the Uber app for 55-65 hours per week.”
Even this, however, is still potentially dangerous, according to Uber’s own general manager in New York, Josh Mohrer, who stated in an open letter to the city’s taxi and limousine commission that it is “unsafe to use the Uber app for more than 12 hours at a time.” Based on a five-day week, 65 hours equals 13 hours a day.
Uber in New York has recently banned drivers from working long hours.
Mr Mohrer said that the company would “on a daily basis be using our technology to identify a driver-partner who has been using the Uber app for more than 12 consecutive hours” with “temporary, and possibly permanent, deactivation from the Uber platform” for repeat offenders.
However, a spokesman for Uber in London said it had no plans to follow suit, saying: “Uber does not set hours or shifts and drivers who partner with us can choose the hours they work.”
The spokesman said that drivers who drove “too many hours” would “receive a message from us about safe driving,” but did not specify how many hours was too many.
Steve Garelick, the private hire drivers’ branch secretary for the GMB union, which represents a number of Uber drivers, said drivers were being encouraged to work “excessive and unsafe hours” by the company’s net rates of pay, which the union claims are as little as £5.68 an hour in London, well below the minimum wage, after costs and Uber’s commission are deducted.
To earn even £20,000 a year at this rate, a driver would have to work 68 hours a week.
Uber treats its drivers as independent contractors. However, they must pay a set percentage of each fare to Uber – previously 20 per cent, but increased to 25 per cent for new drivers from November 2015.
Drivers must also pay all their own costs, including petrol, maintenance and insurance of their vehicles. Uber says its London drivers earn an an average of £16 an hour after its commission has been deducted, but before costs.
“We definitely know of Uber drivers who have to work more than 12 hours a day,” Mr Garelick said.
“It’s not through personal choice, it’s the economics that make them do that because the rates are so low. Uber could do something about it tomorrow by increasing the rates of pay. Instead they have been cutting the rates.
“Increasing their commission by a quarter obviously means that a new driver has to do more hours to earn the same money as a driver who joined before November.”
Uber’s technology also allows precise tracking of the hours worked by every individual driver and could be used, as in New York, to identify those working unsafe hours.
Several Uber drivers spoken to by The Sunday Telegraph admitted that they “sometimes” worked more than 12 hours a day.
Mohammed, a driver waiting for business in the West End, said: “My longest was 16 hours a day but I know people who have done 18, 19 hour days several days together.”
In June, a London Uber passenger, Emma Davey, was left unconscious when her Uber car crashed and flipped over after the driver allegedly fell asleep.
Uber’s technology allows precise tracking of the hours worked by every individual driver CREDIT: PA
Transport for London figures show there has been a 44 per cent rise in the number of casualties involving taxis or private hire vehicles in the capital since Uber launched its main service in London, UberX, in July 2013.
The number of casualties in the year to June 30 2013 was 530. In the year to June 30 2015, it was 691, a 30 per cent increase. By September 30 2015, the latest available figure, there had been 763 casualties in the preceding 12 months, a 44 per cent rise. Most involved only minor injury.
By September 2015, the taxi and private hire vehicle casualty rate was 102 per cent above the 2005-9 average, according to TfL.
The TfL figures are not broken down between private hire vehicles and black taxis and nor do they identify individual private hire companies.
Uber says it is safer than a high street minicab firm because of its electronic tracking of drivers and because passengers can rate their drivers’ skills.
However, the number of black cabs has not changed substantially since 2009 and the major change in the London market over that time has been a sharp growth in the number of private hire vehicles, mainly due to Uber.
The growth in accidents over the 2005-9 baseline has been even faster than the growth in the number of private hire vehicles, suggesting that as well as more vehicles they are being driven less safely.
An Uber spokesman said the company took excessive hours “very seriously” and “regularly discusses driving habits with partners. Furthermore Uber’s feedback process flags any issues in real time and Uber takes action whenever necessary.”