Thoughts on the numbers: Uber

Uber lost it’s licence.

It is, in many ways, an unpleasant company – making itself less unpleasant only by taking on deeply unpleasant vested interests. (To be transparent: I’m mildly on Uber’s side in this – I have had fewer unpleasant journeys in Uber than in Black Cabs. The worst Uber trip I’ve had has been safe and boring, the worst Black Cab trip I’ve had has involved racist commentary… But in the spirit of data, let’s just say that n is too small to draw definite conclusions from this).

But there are a couple of arguments going around that are, at best, unhelpful.

Uber doesn’t have 40,000 drivers

A number of people (letters in the Guardian, Twitter) are saying that it is ‘widely accepted’ that Uber doesn’t have 40,000 drivers as it claims. Surely that’s a ridiculously high number?

But in 2015 there were over 120,000 taxi drivers in London – including about 27,000 Black Cab drivers. We know that Uber’s position is to dominate a market place, so it doesn’t seem unlikely that there could be 40,000. And until someone comes up with a sourced alternative, it seems bizarre to claim that the number is wrong because.

If they do have 40,000 it’s because most of them work part time…

That might be true. But it’s only relevant from a data perspective if the balance of part time Uber drivers is different than the balance for any other group of taxi drivers. And as we will see it might not have an impact on one of the other major claims.

Uber isn’t safe

There are a number of claims about this, including basic misunderstandings, such as the idea that Uber has no licence, or that it’s drivers aren’t licensed.

However, we do have a bit of data to help answer the question of sexual assault, although it is, at best, partial: the Guardian reports that the Met Police are looking into 32 complaints of rape or sexual assault associated with Uber. Now to be clear, no sexual assault is acceptable.

But the claim is that Uber is dangerous and other taxis are safe. And that claim doesn’t seem to be supported by the data. Because the Guardian also reports that the total number of complaints that are associated with taxi drivers is 154.

So Uber are responsible for 20% of complaints, whilst having 33% of drivers.

These numbers are (of course) open to be challenged if better data becomes available.

It could be that if the claim that many Uber drivers are only part time is true, that a better measure, such as modifying this value by the number of journeys might be more relevant.  And it is quite likely that this data will come out in court. But it seems capricious to deny numbers that do exist in favour of numbers that don’t (yet).

Where is the data?

Of course one of the obvious conclusions is that TfL should do a far far better job of publishing data that is important to the public in London.