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Transport / Mass transit

This week's Uber scandal: the drivers who throw gay couples out of their cabs

Oh, Uber. Everyone’s favourite taxitastic disruptional technoshamens has already offended women. They’ve already offended teachers. They’ve offended other cab drivers, so often that we’re not even going to bother with a link.

This week, it seems, it’s the turn of the gay community. From Pink News:

…reader Oliver Griffiths… who had been out for dinner on 1 January with his boyfriend Gregor Ridley, said he was told by the driver that it was “against the Uber rules” for him to hug his boyfriend in the back of one of the company’s cars. He also said a friend, who was sat in the front of the vehicle alongside the driver, heard him “mutter homophobic comments”, and that the driver then took a photo of the couple on his phone.

A few days earlier, another gay couple were thrown out of a Uber taxi after its driver objected to the fact they were kissing in his car, so at least it Griffiths and Ridley don’t need to feel singled out.

In Uber’s defence, it has taken swift action: in each instance, the firm apologised, and the two drivers have both been suspended. Nonetheless, the news highlights a lingering problem with the disruptive, peer-to-peer nature of the firm’s business model.

That’s because the company’s actions have been entirely reactive: the standards of behaviour that Uber claims it expects of its divers seem only to have been made clear after they’d breached them.

And the whole affair raises questions about exactly how rigorous the firm’s screening process really is. In most cities, it conducts its own background checks on its drivers (although exactly how rigorous these are is a matter of some debate); in the British capital, Transport for London does this job, as it does with every other licenced minicab company.

But a background check is not the same as being in regular, face-to-fact contact with an employee, so you can look out for telltale signs that they’re racist/homophobic/a member of the local Nuremberg Rally re-enactment society. Minicab firms, whatever their faults, can keep a much closer eye on their drivers than Uber does. That inevitably weakens the company’s ability to vouch for its employees.  

The company’s marketing content promises its drivers “no office, no boss”. You can see why that relative lack of accountability might appeal to a driver. Whether it should appeal to a potential passenger is an altogether different question.
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