Will Uber Work In London? The App Is Now Banned In London, & It Will Impact Women In A Major Way

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

The ride-sharing app Uber has now been banned in London by the city's transport authority, who said it was not "fit and proper" to hold a license because of "public safety and security implications." The decision is wildly controversial, with devoted Uber-users pitted against London black cab drivers, who staged a massive protest against Uber across the city last year that brought traffic to a grinding halt. But amid the legal chaos (as Uber is now going to appeal the city's decision) and the difficulties posed to Uber customers, the impact of the ban on women — female Uber drivers and passengers alike — may be a mixed bag.

For many young women in particular, the ridesharing app seems to be a convenient godsend to help when public transport is unavailable or conventional taxis are prohibitively expensive. However, it's hardly had a smooth rise; it's now banned in places like Austin, Texas, Delhi, India, and the entire country of Denmark for problems ranging from definitions (is it a taxi company or something else?) to serious safety issues. While getting an Uber is currently a fixed part of the landscape in cities around the world, watching how London copes without it — and its impact on female customers and drivers — will offer new perspective about how we use transportation.

It Will Damage The Work Prospects Of Female Drivers

It's been widely reported that 40,000 Uber drivers in London woke up to find themselves out of work because of the ban by TfL (Transport for London). It's unclear just how many of those drivers were women, but it's likely that the proportion could be as much as a third. In 2016, Uber released data to indicate that rising numbers of women were becoming part of the Uber gig economy by applying to be drivers, accounting for 29 percent of new sign-ups that year alone. 19 percent of the Uber drivers using the app at the end of 2015 were women.

The recruitment of more female drivers has been a big part of Uber's future plans; they announced a partnership with UN Women in 2015 to increase the number of their female drivers to one million by 2020. It's easy to understand Uber's appeal to women who have cars and need flexible working hours. They might also not have more traditional taxi jobs available; in London and across the UK, the famous black cab industry is heavily dominated by men, with 98 percent of the drivers being male. For female Uber drivers in London, this may not be an opportunity to join another part of the industry; it may simply shut them out altogether.

... But It Might Also Make The Companies Address Safety Concerns

In reality, female Uber drivers have been the subject of a lot of concern because of the lack of protection offered to them both by the situations Uber driving creates, and by the app itself. Female drivers in the U.S. have been increasingly drawn to businesses like Chariot, which only accepts carefully vetted female passengers, and Shuddle, which markets itself as "Uber for kids" and operates after school hours, because they're less at risk of assault by drunk male passengers while using those apps.

Female Uber drivers aren't protected by the conventional plexiglass screen that protects drivers in traditional cabs, and also aren't trained to deal with the harassment or endangerment caused by passengers. There are also allegations that the company itself does very little to help after assaults occur; Becky Graham, who drove for Uber in San Diego, alleged in a lawsuit this year that after a sexual assault by two male passengers, Uber did very little to support or help her recover, and refused to give the men's names to law enforcement.

The situation hasn't been helped by revelations about Uber's own sexist workplace culture, which hardly encourage policy-making that protects female recruits or helps them make choices for their own safety. While these problems weren't explicitly on the list of TfL's reasons for banning the app in London, possibly the ban might make the company reconsider some of the ways in which it treats its non-male drivers.

It Eliminates A Transportation Choice For Women, But That Might Not Be A Bad Thing

On the face of it, the removal of Uber's cheap rides is a bad thing for female safety in London's metropolitan area. It gives women less choice about how they're going to get home, particularly late at night, and therefore risks creating safety issues. However, part of the reason Uber's being banned, according to TfL, is its regulation of its drivers — specifically how it runs checks on them when hiring, including DBS checks (which look at employees' criminal records), and how it deals with allegations of serious assault by current Uber drivers. The fact that Uber's been deemed to fail badly in both these areas indicates that they weren't exactly providing drivers who were safe for female passengers to ride with.

It was reported in the UK that Uber in London had investigated 32 drivers for rape or sexual assault of passengers between May 2015 and May 2016, a problem that prompted the head of the Met Police to write to the transport authority in frustration. In one case, apparently a male driver continued to be employed while he was under investigation for sexual assault by police, and managed to assault another woman before he was fired. For women trying to make their way home alone, these instances are not encouraging when it comes to their safety.

Uber's choice to appeal the decision means we'll hopefully get more of an insight into the company's priorities, and if they want to work in London again they'll likely have to promise to overhaul a lot of the ways in which they treat and vet their drivers, which could have the potential to change the way the company does business. However, that's a lot of "ifs." For the moment, women across London have to balance the loss of an employment opportunity with the removal of a company that didn't seem to have their best safety interests at heart.