Oil giant Shell has been urged to protect workers’ rights as it bids to make an entrance into the London minicab market.
A subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch firm is applying for its own operating licence in the capital.
The app, dubbed FarePilot, has been available to drivers since last year and currently uses algorithms to advise them on the most lucrative locations to offer rides for services like Uber.
FarePilot “was created to help private hire & taxi drivers make more money and spend less time on the road,” its website states.
But now the app, in which Shell’s technology ventures arm has a majority stake, is taking steps to become a Private Hire Operator, allowing it to give work directly to drivers.
Asked whether FarePilot, which Shell says is “not a ride-hailing business”, had submitted a licence application, a spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost it had done so.
“But only in London,” they added. FarePilot wouldn’t comment further on the application, despite claims it was readying for an imminent launch.
It’s prompted warnings from trade unions for the firm to guarantee drivers’ employment rights after a string of tribunals affecting other taxi apps, including Uber.
If its application is approved, FarePilot could eventually challenge the US tech firm, and others such as Lyft, as well as British-based operators like Addison Lee.
A FarePilot spokesperson added in a statement on Friday: “Drivers often ask us however if we could further help them by giving them driving jobs and this is something that we are investigating but no decisions have been taken to go live with such a product.
“Should this materialise, we will ensure that all the correct commitments - including licences and procedures - are in place prior to going live. We cannot comment any more at this time.”
‘Shell can lead’
Uber in particular has faced difficulties in the capital after an application to renew its operating licence was rejected by regulator Transport for London (TfL) last year over safety grounds.
It is now appealing that decision through the courts.
In addition, Uber has faced a raft of PR challenges, and a defeat over employment rules.
One union leader said drivers would welcome a new entrant to the market, and that any new player had the chance to lead by protecting workers’ rights.
James Farrar, chair of the United Private Hire Drivers branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, has written to chief executive Ben van Beurden to seek assurances that Shell will give an assurance it will protect drivers.
“I would like to have your personal assurance that FarePilot will not violate employment laws and will honour the right of drivers to be paid at least the minimum wage for every hour logged on to FarePilot and that they will be paid holiday pay, will not suffer discrimination and that Shell will not interfere with whistleblower rights,” he wrote to van Beurden.
Farrar told HuffPost on Friday: “Shell isn’t some bootstrap, bro-culture, Silicon Valley start-up, it’s a $250bn business that’s learned corporate social responsibility the hard way.
“We think that drivers should get the Living Wage for each hour they work and holiday pay too.
“Shell can move in, do these things, and be a real leader in the market.”