The vetting process for thousands of drivers offering the under-fire service in London has been declared invalid
Andrew Gilligan, September 3 2017, 12:01am, The Sunday Times
Thousands of Uber drivers are to be made to undergo new criminal record checks after regulators rejected the vetting process used by the cab-hailing giant.
Transport for London (TfL), which licenses taxis in the capital, is writing to at least 13,000 minicab drivers — more than a tenth of the total — telling them their background checks are no longer valid. The drivers will be given 28 days to make new applications for vetting or be taken off the road, TfL said. They work for several companies but the largest number are Uber drivers.
The move comes after The Sunday Times revealed that police had accused Uber of failing to report sex attacks on passengers by its drivers and of “allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public”.
Last week it emerged the man charged with the Buckingham Palace terror attack is an Uber driver. Mohiussunnath Chowdhury allegedly attacked three police officers with a samurai sword while shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is great).
In December 2015 a former Uber driver, Muhiddin Mire, tried to behead a stranger in a London Tube station, yelling: “This is for my Syrian brothers.”
All would-be minicab drivers in London must be checked against information held by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), a government agency, for criminal records, unsuitability to work with children or police warnings.
Uber worked with a London-based company called Onfido to carry out the checks. Uber referred drivers to Onfido, which would check with the DBS and then issue TfL with a certificate stating the facts about the driver’s background. Onfido describes Uber as a “client”.
TfL accepted these certificates until this year. However, it said this weekend that “following a recent review of policy” it would no longer accept them from Onfido or any other “third-party provider” but only its own contractor. TfL declined to describe its concerns about Onfido and other providers.
Onfido denied any deficiencies in its vetting process and said TfL simply wanted to maintain an exclusive contract with its own provider, GBGroup. “The only concern expressed to us is about the exclusivity of the contract,” it said.
Uber said it did not itself carry out or process any background checks. “Uber does not require potential drivers to use a specific provider and does not have a say in who gets licensed,” it said. “It is ultimately up to the regulator to review the application and DBS check and decide who is granted a licence.”
Uber’s licence to operate in London, originally issued for five years, was renewed in May for only four months after Inspector Neil Billany, head of the Metropolitan police’s taxi unit, expressed “significant concern” that the company seemed to be “deciding what [crimes] to report”, telling police only about “less serious matters” that would be “less damaging to [its] reputation”. Its licence expires at the end of this month.
Billany said Uber had failed to report at least six sexual assaults on passengers carried out by its drivers. One attacker was able to molest a second female passenger before being taken off the road. Uber said it was up to individuals to decide whether to report such incidents.
Uber is trying to stabilise under a new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, after boardroom battles, allegations of sexual harassment, invasion of privacy and bribery, and the forced resignation of co-founder Travis Kalanick.
Caroline Pidgeon, deputy chairwoman of the London assembly’s transport committee, said: “The questions for Uber keep piling up. Its licence should not be even considered for renewal until strict employment and road safety conditions are firmly in place to ensure it behaves like a responsible company.”