In September, Transport for London announced that Uber would be stripped of its licence. The ride-hailing app has appealed the decision, and until a ruling is made, will continue to operate in London.
TfL’s statement didn’t mention sexual offences specifically.
But the London Taxi Drivers’ Association – one of Uber’s most vocal critics – has said that recent figures on recorded sexual offences in London “clearly show that the Mayor was right not to relicense Uber over passenger safety concerns.”
FactCheck takes a look at what we know.
What is Uber?
Uber is officially known as a “private hire vehicle” operator. Private hire vehicles include minicabs, chauffeur cars and limousines.
Private hire vehicles must be pre-booked, and the operator has to send a booking confirmation to a passenger before their journey that includes the vehicle’s registration, plus the driver’s first name and private hire licence number.
That’s different to a “taxi” – a term that officially only applies to what most people call a “black cab”. In order to be licensed by TfL, taxi drivers must pass the Knowledge of London exam. Taxis can be pre-booked, but can also be hailed from the street or a taxi rank.
Both private hire drivers and taxi drivers must pass enhanced Disclosure & Barring Service background checks.
That means they will be checked for spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings – as well as “any information held by local police that’s considered relevant to the role.”
“Over 50 per cent of the drivers charged with sexual assault in 2016 were working for Uber”
That’s what the head of the London Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA), Steve McNamara, said in a statement last month, responding to TfL’s latest statistics on sexual assaults in taxis and “private hire” vehicles.
He’s partly right.
The TfL data shows that in 2016, 31 drivers were charged with 34 sexual offences in London.
Three of those drivers were unlicensed (i.e. bogus minicab drivers), and a further three were licensed drivers who were out on unbooked journeys at the time of the offence or alleged offence.
That leaves us with 25 licensed private hire drivers who were charged with a sexual offence that happened while they were on a booked journey. Of those, 13 were Uber drivers – the remaining 12 were from other private hire companies.
No “black cab” drivers were charged with an offence in 2016.
So Mr McNamara is right that more than half of licensed drivers on booked journeys charged with a sexual offence in 2016 worked for Uber (13 drivers out of 25 works out at 52 per cent).
At first glance, that sounds like a lot.
But according to TfL data cited by Uber, the company holds 55 per cent of all the private hire driver licences in London. This suggests that the proportion of Uber drivers charged with sexual offences is roughly in line with its share of the private hire market.
What about the number of drivers who are actually convicted?
12 private hire drivers were convicted of a sexual offence in London in 2016, of which five were Uber drivers.
That means Uber drivers made up 41 per cent of all drivers who were convicted of a sexual offence in 2016. That’s proportionately lower than their 55 per cent share of the private hire vehicle market.
There are still three Uber drivers whose trials are ongoing, as well as a further two drivers from other private hire operators. When those proceedings are complete, the proportions may shift.
“Last year there were 32 allegations of rape or sexual assault made against Uber drivers”
Londoners might have seen this statement on advertising vans recently. It comes from the London Taxi Drivers’ Association, and has been tweeted by the organisation several times in recent weeks.
The LTDA told FactCheck that the claim comes from this Freedom of Information request, which asked the Met Police how many reports of sexual assault involved Uber drivers between February 2015 and February 2016. So not quite “last year”.
But the figures do support the claim that in that period “32 allegations were reported in which it was stated that the suspect was an Uber driver.”
However, the same data shows that in that period, the Met received 154 allegations of rape or sexual assault “in which the suspect was alleged to have been a taxi driver”.
As the Met points out, “taxi driver” is a broad term that “could apply to drivers of black cabs, minicabs [real or bogus] including the many-seated versions, rickshaws and chauffeur driven cars.”
That means Uber drivers were only implicated in 20 per cent of alleged sexual assaults and rapes involving taxi or private hire drivers in the twelve months to February 2016.
We simply don’t know what types of driver were implicated in the remaining 80 per cent of cases.
So the “32 allegations” claim is true in its own terms, but the LTDA have only told one side of the story.
Are you safer in a black cab?
Supporters of black cabs are keen to point out the fact that in 2016, no black cab drivers were charged with or convicted of sexual offences in London.
But we know that more generally, sexual crimes are underreported for a number of reasons. The Rape Crisis centre estimates that only 15 per cent of people who experience sexual violence report it to the police.
And even among those cases that are reported to the police, the majority won’t result in criminal charges. TfL data shows that only 34 of the 164 recorded sexual offences relating to taxi and private hire journeys resulted in charges in 2016.
As TfL notes: “this could be for various reasons, including the driver not being traced and identified, insufficient evidence to charge a suspect, the Crown Prosecution Service deciding it is not in the public interest to prosecute, or the victim’s reluctance to proceed with a prosecution.”
We can’t rule out the possibility that attacks involving black cab drivers happened and went unreported, or that they were reported but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the suspect.
Of course, by the same token, it’s possible that the true number of assaults committed by Uber and other private hire vehicle drivers is higher than those reported here.
But it’s also worth remembering that private hire operators (including Uber) must provide the passenger with details of the driver, the car and their license before a journey.
In theory, this could make it easier for the police to pursue charges against Uber or other private hire drivers when an allegation is made. We may have a more accurate picture of assaults committed by private hire drivers because they are easier to trace.