As one of the largest ride-hailing companies in the world, Uber has faced ongoing legal battles across the globe over passenger safety and its treatment of drivers. The coronavirus pandemic has hit the company hard, with demand for journeys dropping by 70% and total revenue by 29%. In this context, Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest polling investigated how the company is viewed by consumers in London.
After initially losing its operating license in 2017 for ‘repeated safety failures’, Uber’s extension period expired in November 2019. The app continues to be available to Londoners as it fights the decision in court. If not overturned, the ban would see Uber lose one of the five cities that collect 24% of the app’s revenue. The precarious position that Uber finds itself in is relevant to a majority of the capital’s population, as our poll found that 59% of Londoners have used Uber.
The app was more popular among young people, having been used by 71% of 18-to-24-year olds, as compared to 47% of those over the age of 65. This difference is likely due to young people’s higher usage of smartphones, and their lack of attachment to traditional black cabs, which are often believed to charge higher prices.
Interestingly, car owners were more likely (62%) to have used Uber than those who do not own cars (56%), while those who cycle (77%) were also more likely to have used Uber than those who do not cycle (50%).
Our poll also found differences in usage between supporters of different political parties, as 2019 Labour voters were more likely to have used Uber (66%) than 2019 Conservative voters (55%). Liberal Democrat voters (67%) were the most likely to have used Uber before.
Ever since Transport for London (TfL) opted against renewing Uber’s license in 2017 and again in 2019, Uber has been in a legal struggle to keep its operations open in the UK. TfL’s decision cited negligence over background checks of drivers, which allowed 43 drivers to fake their identities on over 14,000 trips. Nevertheless, only a minority of London respondents (31%) would support a ban on Uber in London.
Opinion was fairly constant between supporters of different parties: 2019 Conservative voters were only slightly more likely (33%) to favour a ban than Labour (29%) voters. The low level of support among Labour voters for banning Uber may be of interest to the Party’s strategists, who in recent years have waged a campaign against the gig economy’s controversial employment practices.
Car owners, perhaps because they have their own way of getting around London, were more likely (35%) to favour a ban than those who do not own a car (27%). Further, those who have used Uber before (27%) were more supportive of the app remaining a transport option in London than those who have not used it (39%).
Earlier this summer, the state of California filed a lawsuit against Uber and Lyft, which alleged that the companies misclassified their drivers as independent contractors rather than as employees who are entitled to a minimum wage and benefits. Last month, judges ruled in favour of the State, issuing a preliminary injunction that forces ride-hailing and delivery companies to change their classification. In line with a ruling of a London court, 62% of Londoners agree that Uber drivers should be classified as employees, while 22% say they should remain as independent contractors.
Party lines were somewhat noticeable, with 69% of Labour voters in favour of classifying drivers as employees compared to 57% of Conservative voters. Nonetheless, despite the difference in support among voters of the two major parties, it is worth noting that a clear majority of Conservative voters do agree that Uber drivers should be classified as employees rather than contractors.
Those who have used Uber before (68%) were more likely to support the reclassification of the status of drivers (from contractors to employees) than those who have not used the service (54%). It is more likely that the latter group of respondents are simply less familiar with the nature of Uber, as the deficit in support for the policy was made up by a higher number of respondents answering that they “don’t know” how Uber drivers should be classified.
Reclassifying Uber drivers as employees would likely have the effect of increasing the prices of Uber trips, which could be an issue for Londoners who rely on Uber for some of their transportation needs. Indeed, only 55% of Londoners own a car, which underlines that any changes to private vehicle services will have a significant impact on the public.
As an alternative to ride-hailing apps and traditional public transport, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently announced the launch of a £2bn ‘cycling revolution’ to combat the country’s obesity problem. Thousands of miles of new bicycle lanes, cycle training for those who want it, and bicycle repair vouchers for the public will all be included in the new plans. At this stage, around a third (34%) of respondents indicated that they use a bike to travel around London.
The vast majority (76%) of bike users ride at least once a week, including 21% who cycle daily. However, bike usage was slightly down from our poll in August, when 82% of bike users were riding at least once a week.
As many Londoners continue to work from home, road traffic remains far below its pre-pandemic levels, while public transport is still only seeing 30% of its usual demand. Bike usage on the other hand has surged during the pandemic – in May and June alone, a record-breaking two million ‘Boris Bikes’ were hired. Nevertheless, our poll found that the plurality (41%) of respondents still consider that cycling is unsafe in London, while only a third (34%) believe it is safe.
Respondents in the outer boroughs of London were less likely to feel safe cycling in London (31%) than respondents in the more central parts of the city (39%). While traffic is usually busier in central London, the greater prevalence of cycling lanes in the more central parts of the city may help to alleviate safety concerns.
As the winter months approach and the weather in London worsens, it remains to be seen whether cycling will remain as popular among Londoners. Meanwhile, public transport and ride-sharing apps remain an option for the nearly half of Londoners who do not own a car. As for Uber, the coming months will show the impact that the court’s ruling in California will have on the company’s operations in London, and whether Londoners will be able to continue relying on the service for their transport needs in London.