The relationship between Uber and Transport for London at the moment is strained, at best, thanks to the former's operating licence not being renewed - effectively banning it from the city. While Uber dismissed claims it wasn't "fit and proper" to hold a licence and set about appealing the ban in court, it seems it's not above trying to curry favour with the regulator by making changes to the way it operates.
It's probably some good timing on Uber's part as well, since TfL just released a new policy document detailing some new requests it has for all private hire vehicle operators - a lot of which involved safety.
The changes have an emphasis on safety, which is one of the things TfL criticised when the initial ban was announced. My impression is that Uber isn't willing to place all its bets on winning in court, and is putting measure into place to ensure it's able to continue operating within the capital regardless of the eventual outcome. Plus it decreases the likelihood of other cities following London's example if the changes are rolled out worldwide. Tom Elvidge, Uber's UK general manager, said:
"After listening to feedback from drivers, riders, local regulators and the police we're introducing a number of new features and changes to enhance driver and passenger safety. We're determined to change the way we do business, so we'll carry on listening and plan to make other improvements over the coming months."
The main thing Uber is implementing is a 24 hour phone line that lets drivers and passengers file complaints with a real life human being, rather than having to log them in the app and never hearing back. What's interesting is that this is something TfL has asked for in the past, referring to it as an "important safety requirement". Uber didn't agree, and argued black cabs didn't need a centralised helpline.
Obviously Uber's attitude has changed over the past several months, and might have something to do with its supposed willingness to make a deal with TfL to regain its operating licence. While it claims passengers and drivers alike prefer to solve issues within the app itself, it's listening to feedback and giving both groups the option to call if that's what they prefer.
This phone line will be launched in conjunction with Uber offering passengers more information about the drivers. That includes adding their licence number and information on which authority issued it. That way they can file a complaint with the local authority as well, should the need arise. Uber has also confirmed it will be working more closely with local councils, particularly so it can identify drivers who have been refused a licence by one authority but still managed to get one elsewhere. It's even offering to draft legislation that would see the launch of a national register, which would likely make that task far, far easier.
On top of this Uber has promised to forward major passenger complaints directly to police. It's been doing that in London for quite some time, but this is the first time its announced its intentions to expand that policy across the UK. It's not happening straight away, though, apparently due to the fact Uber has to work out the specifics with the various police forces up and down the country. Uber will also be offering the same option for drivers, rather than asking them to go to the police directly. [Uber via Engadget]