5 things you didn’t know about Uber

Cheap taxi rides come at the cost of employment rights and fair pay for drivers



Taxi-hailing app Uber has been taken to the High Court by Transport for London (TfL) to determine whether it is lawful. TfL has also announced a public consultation on better regulating the service, with proposals including English language requirement for drivers and stricter controls on insurance.

Uber says this will damage public interests – but doesn’t care so much about the interests of its drivers. Here are five things you didn’t know about Uber:

1. It asserts that its drivers are ‘partners’, meaning they are not entitled to normal worker’s rights. Uber has contested claims that this is exploitative, claiming that it is allowing its drivers to work as independent contractors in the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Currently an Uber driver does not have rights to holiday pay, or the right to properly challenge a discipline or grievance notice before being dismissed. There have been reports from drivers that they have been dismissed for making complaints about unfair treatment.

2. If a driver’s rating falls below 4.6 or 4.2 (there are varying accounts) they risk being sacked (or ‘deactivated’ to use the Uber euphemism.) There is no way to properly regulate ratings and protect them from the caprice of a customer. If a driver pick up a passenger who wants a conversation and their English isn’t great, or a passenger in a bad mood, or a passenger who wants help moving house, they are risking their job.

3. Uber deducts a fifth of a driver’s income, which is already low. According to the GMB Professional Drivers’ Union, a GMB member who works exclusively for Uber in London was paid £5.03 net per hour for 234 hours driving during the August calendar month. This is £1.47 per hour below the current national minimum wage of £6.50 per hour. For each hour he worked, he paid  £2.65 to Uber, equating to 53 per cent of his net pay per hour. GMB has urged all Uber drivers to keep detailed records of the pay they receive.

Many Uber drivers are recent immigrants with poor English which may prevent them from getting other work in the UK, and which means they are not familiar with pay law. Far from offering freedom, the Uber business model exploits people who cannot get better jobs.

4Uber’s tax arrangements are highly contested. Uber processes its jobs through its Dutch subsidiary, Uber BV, which allows Uber to charge a lower VAT rate. The Dutch VAT rate is Dutch VAT is 0 per cent for entrepreneurs conducting foreign businesses from the Netherlands; in the UK it’s 20 per cent. This allows Uber to offer super-low prices.

5. There are no limits on the number of cars Uber can operate. The company says it currently has more than 15,000 drivers in London, and its chief executive Travis Kalanick has said he expects that to rise to 42,000 in 2016. Not only does this have implications for London’s already terrible air quality – a TfL- commissioned study found that nearly 9,500 people die each year in the capital because of pollution – it means there will be less and less work for drivers who have made Uber their full-time job.

Uber is also ruining the livelihoods of other drivers. Over a two-year period, roughly coinciding with the explosion of Uber in London, the number of minicab companies has fallen by 5 per cent. Uber is so much cheaper than black cabs and private companies that people who have worked their whole lives as drivers no longer have a chance. It is true that other taxi companies need to reconsider their pricing, but the Uber boom happened so quickly that they were caught off guard. Plus, Uber cannot take the moral high ground on affordable taxis when they operate theirs on the backs of unprotected workers.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

31 Responses to “5 things you didn’t know about Uber”

  1. Samuel Hooper

    Wherever there is innovation and a great leap forward for consumers, there is an angry left-winger trying to stop it and hold humanity back, piously “defending” people like Uber drivers – smart, autonomous people who are more than capable of speaking out for themselves and managing their own affairs.


    Have you been in a black cab lately? That is one industry – and one group of cosseted, over-protected “workers” – which is ripe for some disruptive innovation.

  2. Richard

    This is the stupidest article I’ve ever read.

    Try this one on for size: I was on an Uber ride recently, and the driver told me that he used to be a taxi driver and had to pay 800 per WEEK just to have the “privilege” of driving a beat up old car. He said that in order to actually make a living, he had to drive upwards of 60 hours per week. Now he drives his own car (which he pays something like 500 per MONTH to OWN), and told me that he finally gets to see his kids on the weekend.

    In other words, if you think Uber is bad, just look at the garbage it is replacing.

  3. Puddle

    Yawn, please stop parroting Uber propaganda. The issue has nothing to do with “innovation” or competition – there are multiple smart phone apps for black cabs, ‘Hailo’ and ‘Gett’ being the top two and the black cabs have been competing with public transport and minicabs for several decades.

    Just an FYI: Uber drivers in LA are going on strike over their pay being decreased year-on-year as well being in opposition to Uber’s questionable business practices.

    If you can’t wrap your head round the issue properly Samuel, then the polite thing to do would be to refrain from commenting – cheers.

  4. Samuel Hooper

    Yes, heaven forbid the readers of Left Foot Forward have to encounter a contrary opinion once in a while, eh “Puddle”? Much easier to assume that because I disagree I am ignorant.

    If you actually want to debate me rather than wagging your finger and being all smarmy, then you can read my full rebuttal to Ruby Stockham’s piece here:



  5. Albee Doh

    The Uber driver you’re referencing hasn’t done all the math on his total costs.

    – Given the number of hours he is working and the miles he’s accumulating he will take a total loss on the value of his vehicle in about a year.

    – Virtually none of the regions Uber operates in have insurance policies that cover drivers when there is no rider in the vehicle. You need to look into “gap” insurance and why it isn’t available for most drivers.

    – If your driver gets in a wreck without a rider on board his life will also be wrecked.

    – Uber, despite claims, will not reimburse drivers for most damages resulting from riders. They state that this is on the drivers’ insurance. See above for why this isn’t working out.

    – 100% + of all operational costs are pushed onto the drivers. The “+” is in the form of the “complimentary” extras Uber touts as being part of the 5 star service that drivers are threatened with possible deactivation if they don’t provide. Riders are not aware of the fact that Uber cons drivers into shouldering all costs, INCLUDING the extra data charges that the apps run up. In fact, riders are not aware of the fact that Uber pushes all costs and risks onto the drivers, who end up netting well below minimum wage, in virtually all of Uber’s markets, after calculating for costs and taxes.

    – What Uber does is prey on trusting, unsuspecting newbies by deceiving them into thinking they are making lots of money. But by intentionally hiding the costs and intentionally lying about the insurance issue they are merely pulling a fraudulent scam on them.

    Just do the math yourself:

    – Look up what Uber charges in any given city.

    – Deduct Uber’s take (20-30% depending on locale).

    – Then deduct what the tax board in a given country claims it costs drivers to do the job (in the US the IRS allows a maximum of $0.56 per mile deductible for operational costs, but this figure is based on data from the mid-80’s).

    The earnings Uber touts is total BS. In most cities Uber drivers would have to drive 2000 miles a week or more to pull the earnings (before taxes) Uber claims.

    Before you go labeling people stupid perhaps you should try the job yourself and see what it actually pays and just how much the company bends you over to do it.

  6. Albee Doh

    Drivers who “speak out for themselves” get “deactivated,” a very Orwellian “Doublethink” tactic for firing people under the false pretenses of euphemistic jargon.

    Perhaps you should visit independent driver forums to see just how “happy” a growing number of drivers are with the way they are being treated.

    And do the math:

    – Look up what Uber charges in any given city.

    – Deduct Uber’s take (20-30% depending on locale).

    – Then deduct what the tax board in a given country claims it costs drivers to do the job (in the US the IRS allows a maximum of $0.56 per mile deductible for operational costs, but this figure is based on data from the mid-80’s).

    The pay and working conditions are terrible.

  7. Puddle

    So now you’ve moved on from parroting Uber’s propaganda to making strawman arguments – nice!

    No-one’s afraid of contrary opinions Samuel, but the spreading of false information gets incredibly tiring to read.

    I accused you of ignorance not for failing to be left-wing (stop being so melodramatic) but for failing to understand why cabbies and others are in opposition to Uber. As I stated, it has entirely nothing to do with supposed phobias against innovation and competition which is merely Uber propaganda – a point your article fails to refute BTW which shows you clearly still don’t comprehend what the issue here is.

    You’re simply blowing hot air at this point.

  8. Albee Doh

    You are ignorant of this issue. You just like the cheap “too good to be true” fares and simply refuse to face the Uber reality.

    – Look at what Uber charges in any given city.

    – Deduct Uber’s take (20-30%, depending on locale).

    – THEN deduct the operational costs of the job (in the US the IRS allows for $0.56 per mile, based on data culled from three decades ago; AAA claims that actual current costs are well north of this figure and as high as $0.85 per mile for many vehicle types).

    In many cities Uber’s rates are below the actual cost to operate.

    Also, though Uber states that you can make your own hours you can only make money on this job during specific hours and during “surge” spikes, which only occur during specific times primarily on certain days. Drivers in most cities cannot meet costs if more than half their rides do not have surge pricing attached.

    Uber POOL is even more insidious and is a trick the company pulls of drivers to dupe them into doing more work for little or no pay at all, often even tricking drivers into taking a loss.

    Uber does not allow drivers to know the rider’s destination until AFTER the rider is in the car, which is when Uber states the fare is allowed to begin. Because of this drivers are coerced into taking many $4 fares that, after calculating costs, net them pennies at most and even often end up costing them more than they make. This is especially the problem in college towns where short rides are the norm.

    The whole operation is a scam – and you are complicit in it.

  9. Albee Doh


    If Uber is such an awesome job then why is the turnover rate so massively out of proportion? The “bridge job” rebuttal simply doesn’t hold up given the volume of drivers who leave.

    And why are reputable financial advisers warning people off Uber stock when it finally IPO’s? BTW, Uber planned to IPO this year but has now postponed that move.

  10. Samuel Hooper

    What you peevishly call “making strawman arguments” I call making a broader point – as would you, if it didn’t prick your left wing sensibilities quite so much.

    What false information have I spread? And are you seriously telling me that black cab drivers hate Uber out of an overriding concern for the welfare of Uber drivers? Get real. That’s hilariously naive. They are fat, lazy, haven’t come up with an innovation of their own in nearly a century, and are terrified that their archaic, closed industry is about to meet the fiery end it so richly deserves.

    THAT is why black cab drivers – and their politician cheerleaders – hate Uber. I never contested the detailed points other commenters have made about how working for Uber can be a bad financial choice. But most Uber drivers I have spoken with aren’t making a career out of it, they are doing it for awhile en route to something else, something more lucrative. The point is that it is a choice which free economic agents should be free to make.

    Paternalistic lefties like you, on the other hand, always feel the need to step in, because you are so much smarter and know what’s best for the Uber driver better than he or she does. Get over yourself.

  11. Samuel Hooper

    I never said they are “such an awesome job”. But the fact that over 100,000 people have signed a petition supporting them, and the fact that they are putting indolent black cab drivers out of business (about time, too) says it all.

  12. Albee Doh

    Even a casual reading of your blog reveals that all you’ve done is scan through media gibberish that parrots Uber’s marketing strategy.

    Perhaps you should take a crack at actual investigative journalism. I dare ya’.

    Or just try the job for 30 or more hours a week, calculate your costs against your earnings, and see if you’re still smiling at the end of the experience.

    You haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about on this matter.

    BTW, simply because Uber says we’re “partners,” “contractors,” or whatever nonsense label they try to play doesn’t mean that drivers actually are these things. We’re certainly not treated like partners at all.

    Next you’ll be talking up the virtues of the unpaid “internship” scams plaguing the nation these days as well.

    Way to rock the Orwellian “doublethink” like a champ.

  13. Albee Doh

    Tilting at ad hominem nonsense as you do here is only weakening your arguments, which are weak to begin with. All opinions, no substance.

    And Uber is the very antithesis of a free market, they are in every way a burgeoning monopoly.

    Look into Kalanick’s SCOUR. Look into his devious tactics in attempting to undermine competitors like Lyft. Kalanick does not play by the free market handbook, he is a lira and a con man with a criminal past.

    And you are indeed erecting straw men.

  14. Albee Doh

    100,000 people, mostly riders NOT drivers, have signed that petition entirely out of ignorance and the lust for a cheap ride at any cost.

    You have made it abundantly clear that you condone screwing the work force for the “sake” of the consumer. But you forget one crucial thing: the worker IS a consumer. In fact, the work force represents the largest percentage of the consumer demographic.

    And you’re also back-peddling on your initial comment regarding the quality of the job now that I’ve slammed you with facts culled from actual experience.

    Also, most of the people taking the job are either stuck with it longer than they had planned because they anticipated better earnings (as per Uber’s bogus claims), can’t go back to jobs they left to work for Uber, quit sooner than anticipated because the reality of terrible pay and high risk made the job impossible to keep, or are now in a bind and struggling for a way out. A shrinking number of people taking this job do so just for extra cash. Most of the people taking the job are doing so out of desperation or a lack of options because they are immigrants with fewer options (which is what cab companies attract as well – surprise, surprise).

    Man up and just admit you didn’t know as much about the subject as you thought. That would be more respectable and dignified than simply being stubborn and digging your heels deeper into an untenable and indefensible position.

    You do not have the high ground in this battle. Step away and admit defeat with honor or stubbornly stay the course and go right over the falls into oblivion with your doomed ship.

    Your choice.

  15. Puddle

    OK at first I thought you were just misinformed now I’m realising you’re just a committed idiot.

    “black cab drivers hate Uber out of an overriding concern for the welfare of Uber drivers”

    Oh dear – you know the author of this article isn’t a cab driver, right?
    The cabbies stand in opposition to Uber because their entire business model is based on skirting government regulations and then offering bungs to regulators when they get caught, effectively breaking the law. The black cabbies, unlike Uber want to play fair without a corrupt regulator who actually enforces the rules – how evil of them!

    “are terrified that their archaic, closed industry”

    The industry that has allowed direct competition to black cabs since the 1960s? You’re really not good at this debating thing, here’s a pro-tip – once you’ve successfully defined terms try to ensure you’ve got your facts straight.

    “THAT is why black cab drivers – and their politician cheerleaders”

    What politician cheerleaders? Maybe you mean Boris Johnson who initially took the black cabbies side until Rachel Whetstone (Uber UK’s Head of Communication and close friend of David Cameron) paid him a visit and he suddenly did a 180? Some political support, huh?

    “it for awhile en route to something else, something more lucrative”

    The problem being Samuel, that Uber are killing off a long lived cab service that many life-time Londoners rely on to feed their families. I’ll give you some credit, most right-wingers openly pretend to be against the ‘race to the bottom’ style of capitalism, at least you’re a little more honest about it.

    “because you are so much smarter”

    In this instance at least…

    “know what’s best for the Uber driver”

    Never claimed that and the fact Uber has a massively high turnover of drivers (and the strike action being undertaken in LA) proves that even Uber’s drivers know what an awful company it is, no presupposing is required on this one.

  16. Albee Doh

    There’s actually a nationwide (US) strike planned for mid-October now.

    Uber is totally screwing drivers in just about every city now. The Uber POOL boondoggle is especially nefarious.

    This company is committing suicide via sheer hubris. Perhaps it’s intentional, all part of a get in/get out scheme. They definitely maneuver chaotically and in a more deceptive manner than I’ve seen in any company in recent memory.

    But as long as the fares are too-good-to-be-true cheap most riders won’t raise ethical concerns.

    John Adams and Aristotle were right, democracies are public tyrannies with a suicide wish.

    Let the market decide? What kind of decisions result from willful ignorance and an easily bought-off conscience? Certainly not good ones. Race to the bottom, indeed. It won’t cost much to get there but the cost to get back will be impossibly high.

  17. Puddle

    ‘Let the market decide’ – it astonishes me how people don’t realise this is an argument in favour of things like sweatshops, child labour, and removal of both consumer and employee protection laws that we all benefit from.

    Some people just can’t see past “bu- but, muh cheaper fares!!!”

  18. Albee Doh

    Instant gratification obsessions.

    “Let the market decide” is tantamount to Skinner’s pigeons, Pavlov’s dogs, and rewarding chimps with fruit every time they match the proper geometrical forms.

    We’re apes, and when we aren’t provided with ALL the necessary information our ape economy just starts pushing pretty colored buttons for tasty treats.

    It’s a sad state of affairs. The “market” is all too easily duped into behaving out of accord with its own best interests, especially where their progeny are concerned.

    “Ooo-ooo!!! Ahh-ahh!!! Gimme-gimme!!!”

  19. andagain

    If John Worboys had been an Uber driver, he would have been caught a lot sooner, because the police – and Uber – would have been able to tell that all reports were about the same driver. And they would have known who he was.


  20. Richard

    Said like a true medallion owner.

    All I’m saying is that I ask every driver how they like Uber, and about 95% of them like it (with many of them having done it for 2+ years).

    From the consumer side, Uber is smarter, easier, and cheaper. From the driver side, Uber is a much smarter bet than buying into the crony capitalism that goes into the medallion system.

    You can complain all you want. The future is going to happen with or without your cooperation.

  21. JayUKChelsea

    there are no doubt swings and roundabouts – it is about improving on this innovation, not stopping it – world it moving on – its 2015, no longer the world of 1980-2000 – new things happen, got to adapt and maybe unions innovate too?

  22. Albee Doh

    Enter the KIA that starts down the path of baseless assumptions.

    Here’s a fat dose of reality: I’m not now and I have never been a cabbie nor have ever owned a medallion.

    Before I continue, I have to ask that since you claim to value the service so much for its ease of use, quality/kindness of service from drivers, and low cost, do you tip these drivers to show how much you appreciate them? Or do you conveniently rest on the BS claim by Uber that tipping is unnecessary? Seeing as how you also claim to know so much about the company and service you must be aware by now that Uber lied about gratuities being factored into fare costs and that they didn’t bother to tell anyone that the drivers pay for the “complimentary” extras like water, snacks, and device chargers (which they threaten deactivation against drivers for not providing). Sweet deal, eh?

    The reason drivers tell you these things is that they fear “deactivation.” They worry that if they say anything negative about the company to riders they will get stars taken off and/or be reported to Uber. They sing praises out of fear and since many drivers don’t have other sources of income and are increasingly represented by immigrants the fear is very real. Many drivers have been permanently “deactivated” (meaning fired) for speaking up and taking a stand. This isn’t anything new. Historically, this has been a tactic used by employers: “don’t like the way I treat you? Fine, YOU’RE FIRED!”

    Peculiar how you invoke the “consumer side” yet fail to acknowledge that drivers (and all workers in a market economy) are also consumers.

    You’re also very wrong about the driver’s side of the income equation. Cabbies, at year’s end, have fewer expenses and are not taking a loss on their own vehicles. Also, as more and more Uber drivers file taxes the truth keeps coming out and proving that they are making much less than cabbies. That’s a fact.

    Your “2+ years” claim is bogus. The vast majority of drivers quit in three to six months in the majority of cities in which Uber operates.

    As for the future, Uber is getting in deeper and deeper trouble. The court cases are mounting and people within the company are now being arrested and charged. Many more cities have shut them down and more are soon to follow. Or haven’t you been keeping up to date?

    ALSO, the vast majority of reputable financial firms are warning investors off of Uber stock when it IPO’s, which is not good for the company and why they have decided to postpone going public, which they had planned to do this year.

    What’s more is that a nationwide two-day walkout is planned here in the US among drivers. Many lawsuits against the company have been moved forward by judges and more are mounting. Labor boards investigating Uber are finding increasing evidence of abuse, deception, and malfeasance, all of which will be entered as evidence.

    Kalanick has consistently demonstrated crass disregard for drivers in interviews and has a documented history of illegal and anti-competitive activity (look into SCOUR and operation SLOG). He has also approved hacking into reporters’ personal data as well as threatening and harassing them. These will all be referenced in court battles, many of which will be decided by juries.

    Fortunately, I have other sources of income. I also keep a detailed record of my earnings against my costs. I have also told Uber representatives which fares I will accept and which I won’t. I know how much a given fare will cost me and I strategize accordingly. They cannot legally take a retaliatory action against me for simply being a smart “independent contractor/partner” who, as his “own boss” has to look out for his own interests, meaning I have to make a profit and Uber cannot force me to do otherwise. What this translates to is a large percentage of cancellations on my end because most ride requests I receive will cost me more than the job pays. And I keep a record to prove as much. Sadly, this makes the service less reliable but that’s Uber’s doing, not mine. If they simply paid enough to make every ride request worth accepting drivers would not be compelled to make so many cancellations, especially in a territory as vast as Southern California (the largest and most costly territory to operate in out of all Uber’s markets).

    You are completely out of your depth on this topic. You also clearly don’t give a s**t about the drivers or the work force in general.

    You’re a champ. And a stellar example of precisely why workers and employees need regulations to protect them against selfish, unscrupulous employers and “consumers.”

  23. Richard

    I suppose I have two options right now.

    1) I could read your 4 volume novel which (by skimming it) seems to be nothing but ranting, or
    2) I could just reiterate my last statement.

    I’m going to take option 2. The future WILL happen **with or without** your cooperation.

    Rant all you want. See if it makes a difference.


    I have a friend who is a Black Hack owner and he is screwed for every penny the system can get from him. He does not have a radio as it has to be rented. Safety is enforced to a high standard. Any snall defect will take him off the road and another bill. The privates are not subjected to the same standards.
    The last thing the small business man needs is a big brother organisation ripping them off.

  25. Albee Doh

    You haven’t the faintest idea what the future holds. I do know it won’t include you when bot cars are a reality on any measurable level.

  26. Richard

    Tut tut tut. Assumptions assumptions assumptions. Where on earth did I ever say I was an Uber driver? You get amazingly angry over the simplest of things.

  27. Albee Doh

    Where did I say you were an Uber driver?

    And you’ve never seen me angry, projectionist.

  28. Richard

    “… I do know it won’t include you …”

    Right there. See it?

  29. Albee Doh

    Man, you really aren’t the swiftest boat in the fleet.

  30. Hans Nyberg

    You forget to tell one thing, The operational costs is as a general the double amount of miles you are paid for. In normal taxi this is statistically measured with the installed taximeters.

    The Uber driver only gets the info on miles paid for and he has to have his own calculations on how many extra miles he has driven to collect up the next rider.

    With the prices Uber dictates it is almost nothing in income. In most US cities you get $1 per mile and costs for a car is 0.56 per mile. The real costs for most drivers counting also the “dead” miles i about the same as you get paid.

  31. Hans Nyberg

    Thanks Ruby for this very clear and true information about Uber. It´s time for people to wake up and discover that you can not get transport for nothing. When you pay as little as $1,30 including timefare as you do in Los Angeles there is litterally no income. Uber takes 25%, and for each mile you are paid you usually drive 1 dead mile to hunt the next rider. This is something Uber drivers discover after some time but it has been known for ages by the real experienced taxi drivers. So even if you drive a cheap car which may be a little cheaper than the official 56 cents per mile, you will have nothing left as real income.

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