Since 2002 there has been 1740 accusations of rape or sexual assault against individuals working within the private hire industry in London, many of those accused were convicted but not all. Compare this to the London taxi industry which has had 3 sexual assault or rape convictions attributed to it within the same time frame. So what is the problem within the private hire industry that leads us to that alarming statistic. First we need to look at why a potential sex offender finds it so easy within the private hire industry to commit such an offence as opposed to those operating within the taxi industry.
To become a licenced London taxi driver it takes on average 3 years or more to qualify, so there is a cerebral investment attached to becoming a taxi driver alongside a financial investment as well as an emotional investment, time effort and cost. A potential opportunist offender would rarely if ever go down a route such as this to satisfy his or her warped urges, its just too much trouble. The ability to perform full background checks on any potental taxi driver is a relatively simple process due to the sheer length of time doing the knowledge takes. Whilst it is comforting to know that the processes in place to become a taxi driver are ultra-stringent it doesn't exclude the industry from having the odd bad apple.....but it significantly reduces the figure to almost nil. The process to become a private hire driver is significantly more simple, there is no major cerebral or emotional commitment whatsoever and you only need to cover the cost of the private hire licence as well as have the ability to drive and have access to a vehicle.....it is a potential sex offenders dream. Add to the mix the potential flaws with background checks such as an inability to do a full background check on some individuals or the laughable letters or certificates of good conduct, you then have a recipe for disaster and a potential nightmare for some poor unfortunate customer.
Every industry you care to name has an unsavoury element within it, sadly that is part of human nature, but there seems to be an excessive amount of accusations surrounding the private hire industry. It needs to be said that the vast majority of private hire drivers are decent hard working people who are trying to make a living, but when you start to break down the figure of 1740 accusations or convictions in a 15 year period in London alone then you have to start looking at not only the drivers but also the private hire operators and the regulator themselves. You also have to ascertain as to who the worst offending companies are and why. Plausible deniability from private hire companies along with figure manipulation from any given regulator seems to be rife within the private hire industry nationwide, the lack of acceptance that there is a major problem has caused the ruin of many lives up and down the country.
For the last couple of years one company seems to have been linked to a disproportionate amount of drivers being accused of sexual assault and in the last few weeks one of this company's drivers recieved a 12 year prison sentence, that company is Uber. Last year drivers on the Uber platform were linked to nearly 21% of all sex attacks in private hire vehicles in London alone, under a recent freedom of information request it was discovered that this figure was up by a massive 50% on last years figure. Uber drivers were linked to 48 attacks in the 12 months to April alone. Uber unsurprisingly when faced with an individual accused of wrongdoing seem to adopt the stance of claiming that although a driver may be on the Uber platform he or she wasn't using it at the time. This is quite understandable given that any other stance could leave Uber wide open despite their terms and conditions devolving responsibility to the the driver.....and what of Transport for London? Can TfL truly justify the manipulation of some of the figures within the private hire industry. Again TfLs stance is understandable, they've issued licenses to these individuals because they have had no viable way of preventing those licenses from being issued. As a result of this the only way that a possible panic surrounding the private hire industry can be averted is by subtle figure manipulation.....which includes keeping the taxi figures linked with the private hire vehicles, thus keeping the waters suitably muddied.
Are Transport for London at fault in general for the whole sorry mess? The short answer is no, not entirely, this is a governmental problem. Legislation not just in London but across the country is marginally more flimsly than a piece of rice-paper. The reality is that the current legislation has never been fit for purpose, it is nothing more than a shabby, half-baked, back of a fag-paper piece of nonsense......and it has put the public at risk.
There is a myriad of ways that the public can be protected, the vast majority have been mentioned in the All Party Parliamentary Group for Taxis document Leesons for London, but there has to be recognition that there is a problem. No regulator should be burying its proverbial head in the sand and no private hire operator should be able to exercise plausible deniability. To solve a problem you must first admit and recognise that there is a problem, regardless of the ensuing fall-out. Until that happens and until viable, workable solutions are in place we will continue to see peoples lives shattered by the vile acts of opportunist predators with easy access to an unsuspecting public.