Transport for London has just released a brand new policy statement for ride-sharing services operating in the city, including Uber. A lot of the stuff in the six-page document is just a rehash of old regulations, but some of it will mean some changes might be needed - including things like better driver conditions, better accessibility for passengers, and an option for women-only rides with UberPool and other similar services.
At the moment the policies within the document are listed under "aspirations for PHV (private hire vehicle) services". That essentially means they're more like firm suggestions than actual rules right now, but TfL has stressed that legislation may be changed - after all the current rules of law were applied before we started being able to summon strangers to drive us around in their cars.
The UberPool suggestion is certainly an interesting one, and for those of you don't use the service it's essentially carpooling an Uber with strangers in exchange for a slightly cheaper ride. It reads:
"Operators should provide mechanisms to allow passengers to choose who they share vehicles with (e.g. women-only vehicles) and establishing how passengers might be able to decide on this before accepting a ride."
In many respects women-only vehicles makes sense, seeing as how some women might not be thrilled at the prospect of having to share a car with a random guy who may see where they live, but it may be a challenge to implement things beyond that. There's a big difference between not wanting to be in an enclosed space with someone physically intimidating, and not wanting to be around them because of their race or because they support Manchester United.
Filters based on something like race would cause mass outrage, and the football team thing is plain ridiculous, but it could easily be a problem if any company wants to expand beyond TfL's initial suggestion.
In any case this is all about TfL wanted to ensure any and all transport within London is safe. As many people know one of the main reasons behind denying Uber a new operating licence involved allegations that the company lax with its handling of driver background checks and failed to report when they were involved with serious crimes. That latter point was specifically reiterated within the document:
All operators should have a robust process that not only ensures that all complaints are dealt with appropriately but also that any allegation of crime is reported to the police and TfL in a timely fashion to allow drivers who pose a risk to safety to be identified. Data should be held for a timeframe for how to ensure that any patterns of behaviour are recognised.
But the focus isn't just in the passengers. TfL have also included suggestions on how to improve conditions for drivers, stating that "operators providing PHV services should ensure that drivers are treated fairly, ensure drivers have appropriate and reasonable working hours including appropriate breaks." It also wants drivers (and ride-sharing passengers) to be able to file complaints about passengers with the operator, who should then take action and investigate. That are also includes offering the drivers training on how to deal with difficult and emergency situations, which would also eventually mean the service is safer and better for the passengers.
Any changes to legislation aren't just going to come out of nowhere, though. Any changes to legislation will come as the result of consultation, but it seems as though the idea here is to try and get the ride-sharing companies to implement changes voluntarily. It's probably a much faster way of implementing them, anyway. [TfL via Engadget]